How Can Social Robots Benefit Seniors Aging in Place?
The main article on Social Robots is about them in general and why I think them important. The article also describes how social robots for the elderly provide benefits for those who are aging in place:
- Conversational interface minimizes (ideally eliminates) user need to learn device, it learns about them instead and becomes an assistant, with proactive engagement
- Addressing loneliness via video calls (or telepresence) and other ways of keeping in touch, and interacting, with family, friends, and community
- Available young child-oriented activities could lead to more frequent visits by grandchildren
- Ability to detect falls and other potential emergencies, and summon help
- Monitoring of activities (including reminders as necessary), immediate environment, and possibly vital signs for family peace of mind and predictive warnings
- Can assist caregivers, family and/or professional, with potential cost savings
- Integration of security, smart home (including entertainment system) control, and educational, instructive, informational features, providing a better quality of life
- Providing benefits for those with visual, hearing and cognitive impairment, such as reading books
What product features, providing these benefits, are being touted by available, and in development, products?
We look at them in four categories:
- Loneliness / social / connection
- Safety & security
- Digital health
- Quality of life
All of the products that we consider provide a conversational interface. Several incorporate the ability to access any, or selected Android apps. Here are those features by category:
Loneliness / social / connection
- Video calls or telepresence
- Games /apps for grand-kids
- Takes photos on request
- Records videos on request
- Functions to share (send/receive) messages, photos or videos with connections (friends/family)
- Capable of recognizing individuals and uses names during interactions
- Functions for the user to participate in established social networks
Safety & security
- Detection of falls or other emergencies (medical/environmental) and summons help
- Intrusion detection
- Night patrol of home
- View home when away, especially after an alert
- Environmental sensors
Quality of life
- Smart home/home automation
- Project/view video
- Kitchen helper
- See who is at the door
- Alarm clock
- Calendar keeper
- Read books
- Movies/TV shows
- TED Talks
- General questions
What social robots are available for seniors?
As of this update, one social robot in telepresence form, temi, is for sale. There is also one social robot specifically for elderly consumers available for pre-order in the U.S.
One prominent social robot was for sale, but it failed after less than a year of availability. There are some other companies stating their intention to ship a product in 2019. I hope so, but there have been several prominent dropouts in 2018.
Below are brief overviews of three social robots (ElliQ, iPal, Buddy) that explicitly state the intention of providing benefits for the elderly. Also, one (failed) social robot (Jibo) that led to the creation of TechForAging, a second social robot in telepresence form, Cutii, one telepresence robot (Ohmni), and one hybrid product (GeriJoy).
NOTE: Links for devices below could result in an affiliate commission to TechForAging, and do not imply endorsement or recommendation. Use of these links when making your purchases helps to keep the content of this website free.
ElliQ from Intuition Robotics
Intuition Robotics unveiled ElliQ in January 2017 as the first, and so far only, social robot being developed specifically for the needs of the elderly. The company’s focus is on creating a product that many seniors find a valuable aide and a comfortable member of their home as they face the challenges of aging. Or as they put it “proactive, context-aware, multi-modal and persona based experiences”.
Three serial entrepreneurs founded this Israeli company. Notable companies such as iRobot, Toyota Research Institute, and Samsung’s investment fund, Next, are financial backers. Additionally, ElliQ was awarded a prestigious Innovation Award in the Smart Home category at CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) in January 2018.
At CES 2019 it was announced that pre-orders are available. The price is $1,499 (10% off and Summer 2019 delivery as of this update) and the $30 per month “premium subscription” is waived for the first 12 months. Click the Pre Order Now button on the ElliQ website.
Below are three very short promotional videos depicting how ElliQ can benefit the elderly:
Having decided to get involved with social robots in April 2016, I contacted the company expressing my interest when I first learned of its existence. That led to a relationship as an early tester and my participation in articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News.
ElliQ is a stationary device with two parts, an expressive, through motion and lighting, non-humanoid robot, plus a removable tablet.
iPal Robot from Avatarmind
The iPal Robot, from the Chinese-American company AvatarMind, was introduced in China, with a focus on young children, in 2017. I met the CEO at the RoboBusiness Expo in September 2016, discussing my interest in the eldercare intentions for this social robot. I subsequently arranged for the presentation of iPal to my community’s technology committee in May 2017.
I had an early version on loan in my home for several months. I demonstrated it to a small group of residents in my community but it was not mature enough to be of interest.
The company is successfully selling in China. iPal entertained children at the San Jose Mineta Airport and was a hit at CES 2018 and 2019 with a display of a number of them singing and dancing.
The company is now listing Senior Companionship/Care first among the target uses, followed by Retail/Hospitality, and Children’s Education. However, it mainly offers iPal as a Robot Development Platform seeking partners to tailor it for specific uses.
iPal is a tall mobile social robot with a humanoid form. The consumer edition is priced at $3,499. Custom partner versions are listed as being from $3,899 to $5,499. Availability for the U.S. is now stated as September 2019.
Buddy from Blue Frog Robotics
Buddy, “The Companion Robot” is from the French company Blue Frog Robotics. It is one of several social robot products introduced via crowdsourcing (notably Indiegogo and Kickstarter) – this one in 2015. As with many crowdsourced products, delivery to the initial “backers” was much later than initially promised, or, as in this case, has yet to occur. Crowdsourcing is not for the impatient! However, it also secured a new round of funding from a U.S. venture firm in late 2017.
Buddy is intended to serve the whole family, but the company does emphasize the benefits it offers for the elderly and their families. It is participating, along with several other European and Japanese firms, in a project to develop “solutions for extending active and healthy ageing in daily life”.
The company has participated in the last three CES shows and has won awards. At CES 2018, I asked about U.S. availability but did not get a projected availability date. A letter to the crowdsourcing backers in May 2019 states that April 2020 is the target to deliver their “companion”.
Buddy is a short mobile social robot with a hybrid humanoid (“arms” are an option) form. The crowdsource price was $699 to $999, for the basic model and one with all options included.
Jibo The First Social Robot for the Home
Jibo, the name of both the product and the company, was the genesis of TechForAging, as noted in the Social Robots article. Cynthia Breazeal’s description of its capabilities, its target being kids and elders, and the emphasis on soliciting developers, all led me to a life-changing decision.
The 8-minute video below is a very well done story about the life of Jibo. It is well worth watching if you are interested in the potential of social robots.
It had one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns in 2014, raising almost $4 million. I would have backed it, but missed out. The original target shipping was in 2015, then pushed back to April/May 2016.
General availability occurred in November 2017. I had considered buying one. However, I was waiting for the developer program which was halted. It was never reintroduced (luckily for me) and the company was officially gone in November 2018.
Jibo was a stationary social robot in a non-humanoid form. The pricing touted in 2014 was $599, but it was $899 when released to the public.
Jibo, along with two other high profile (but not targeting seniors) social robot companies have garnered lots of press about how hard it currently is to succeed in consumer robots.
temi was formed in 2016 as a subsidiary of a very successful Israeli manufacturer of “tactical ground-based robots” for worldwide military and related uses. The company, Roboteam, is based in Maryland. It is reported that they are now separate companies.
temi the personal robot was inspired by a grandmother, with shaky hands, of one of the company’s founders. It received a $60 million investment and announced a three-year distribution deal in China for 100,000 units.
I signed up to be in the Early Adopters Program in September 2017, offering 1,000 people a week with temi to provide feedback. In November I received an update noting that over 20,000 applications were received. I wasn’t selected.
temi has been referred to as “Alexa on wheels” providing much of the same functionality plus its ability to recognize and follow users around. Telepresence is its primary focus. Because of grandma’s shaky hands, it has a tray to carry things placed there. A fair amount of its features are applicable to eldercare situations.
The company has gotten more than half a million followers on Facebook and has obtained a number of partners around the world. One of them, Medisana, is a leading digital healthcare company based in Germany which has introduced its Home Care Robot.
The press release for the “medisana temi” demonstrates how viable it is in eldercare situations. The following one and a half minute promotional video is a light-hearted look.
There are numerous other applications, beyond eldercare, for families, individuals, businesses, healthcare, etc. that have emerged from extensive testing prior to, and real usage since, sales began.
temi is a tall mobile robot with a non-humanoid form. While it is not being developed as “social” it includes conversational assistance via Alexa or its own technology. It is considered a personal robot technology platform. Sales began October 1, 2018, and it is priced at $1,999.
Beginning September 4, 2019 a monthly payment plan starting at $176 per month is available.
Cutti Home Support Platform
Cutii is from French company CareClever SAS. It is included because of its emphasis as a platform for Aging in Place eldercare functionality and its Robots as a Service (or subscription/leasing) pricing. The company plans its launch in France in early 2018, then other parts of Europe in 2018. It has been at the last two CES shows in Las Vegas, so it is somewhat surprising, and perhaps refreshingly realistic, that expansion to U.S. and Asia is not planned until 2021.
Cutii is a tall mobile robot with a non-humanoid form. The subscription price is currently list as 90 euros per month.
Ohmni Telepresence Robot
Ohmni, from Ohmnilabs, is a telepresence robot, mostly aimed at consumers, but also at home healthcare providers. The company had a successful crowdsourcing campaign in 2017 after raising some initial funding from investors.
It is included because of extensive testing with aging in place seniors and their families. I earlier attended a “Tech Talk – Living with Smart Robots” presented by a nearby progressive senior community organization where Ohmni was featured.
The company is located in Silicon Valley and uses “3D printing” (contact me if you don’t know what this is and want to know) for much of the manufacturing locally. Below is a 2 1/2 minute introductory video.
I invited Ohmnilabs to present to attendees at a technology-oriented club of residents in my community. It took place on September 17, 2018. The presentation and demonstration by Ohmnilabs’ Chief Operating Officer was extremely well received by a large number of attendees,
When the Amazon Echo Show was announced, I ordered two. One was for my then 101-year-old mother-in-law living in an assisted living facility over a two-hour drive from us. The primary objective was to use its “drop-in” feature so my wife could communicate better with her mother.
Ohmni provides a better Echo Show experience because of its mobility and other features. Two units are not a requirement, only an internet browser on any device. Requiring an App for most devices these days is usually a requirement, so this is somewhat unique.
Ohmni is a tall mobile telepresence robot. The company has mentioned the future possibility of adding Alexa type functionality and arms (no detail on what for). A second generation version is priced at $2,195.
GeriJoy Caregiving Companion
GeriJoy is an offering of care.coach. It is not a robot. It is included because users interact via voice conversations and an iPad-like tablet, like the robots, and there is a caring social connection. The tablet shows a pet (dog or cat) avatar through which specially trained remote caregivers will interact with the user providing 24 x 7 companionship, care, and connection. Pricing is $249 per month.