Grow old ‘socially’ with robot ageing companion

18th January 2017
Posted By : Alice Matthews
Grow old ‘socially’ with robot ageing companion

By 2040, nearly one in seven Britons is projected to be aged over 75. As a result of greatly improving social care, a large number of countries are finding themselves faced with the problem of an ageing population: where the median age of the population in a region or country rises significantly when compared to the total population. 

According to the Office of National Statistics, over half (51%) of all people over 75 live alone and the majority would prefer to age in their own home.

In response to this problem, Israel-based start-up Intuition Robotics has developed a robot that looks to improve quality of life for older adults living alone. Marketed as an ‘active aging companion’, the ELLI•Q made its debut at the Design Museum, London on 9th January.

ELLI•Q’s design was created in collaboration with Yves Béhar, founder and principal designer of the industrial design firm fuseproject. Physically, ELLI•Q’s domed ‘body’ is composed of two separate elements: the ‘social director’ which exhibits human characteristics through gestures animated by movement, speech, sounds and light and an LED lighting display that gives the device a friendly and warm appearance. In addition to the robot, an accompanying portable tablet clearly displays content for the user.

The robot offers a wide range of features ranging from a simple conversation (11% of elderly people say they spend five days or more a month without seeing anyone) to providing a reminder to take your medication. Its functions are similar to that of the Amazon Echo, such as playing music or turning on your favourite TV programme, adjusting the central heating and keeping you up to date with the latest news stories. However, while Echo waits passively for you to interact with it, ELLI•Q proactively suggests activities based on your previous behaviour and recommendations by family members. Its creators claim that the software can quickly learn the user’s preferences, so you will not be constantly bombarded with the suggestion to go for a run if you would prefer to do yoga indoors.

Perhaps most crucially is the fact that ELLI•Q has been designed specifically for an older user. Yves Béhar, CEO and Chief Designer at fuseproject, explained: “The idea of having a robot companion is quite dystopian, especially for older generations. Through years of research, we were able to develop a design language and user experience that feels natural, with subtle expressions to develop a unique bond between ELLI•Q and its owner. ELLI•Q could never replace human interaction, but it can be an important motivating factor in keeping older adults healthy and active when living alone.”

A concept version of ELLI•Q is on show at the Design Museum until 19th February 2017. Intuition Robotics will be starting a trial phase in the homes of older adults in San Francisco in February 2017.


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