As originally appeared in fuseproject blog
How do aging adults stay connected to the world when cognitive functions are diminishing, when technology is complex and intimidating, when family and friends are not close-by? How does AI and robotics help us maintain a healthy level of mental and social activity and reduce loneliness - which 50 per cent of older adults list as their main concern?
These are the questions that Intuition Robotics wants to answer with ElliQ: an emotionally intelligent robotic companion that helps us stay connected with loved ones, and to keep thinking and learning as we age. The team at Fuseproject worked with Intuition Robotics to define an entirely new category of robot and interactions, both physically and interactively.
Unlike our current perceptions of robots as humanoids, our design approach is more akin to a beautiful tabletop object, with a screen and ‘companion’ structure – a unique form factor designed specifically to foster comfort and familiarity and askew the typical robot vernacular. By leaving a screen off of the entity itself, our aim is to elegantly balance the fine line between an object and a robot, with subtle gestures to bring it to life in a relatable (and lovable) manner.
With the screen and companion distinct from each other, we were able to include a wide range of utilizations and expressions. The entity structure uses diffused LED lighting to display subtle emotional expressions, with a wide range of motion for the ‘head’ to give it personification in an accessible and friendly manner. The screen works on the cradle display, in the user’s hand, or can stand on its own with an attached easel, showing video or other media content. Keeping these elements separate allows for broadened modular use, without breaking the emotional bond built over time with the character. This is particularly helpful for users with hearing impairments, as they can read subtitles on-screen without ElliQ breaking character.
There are infinite possibilities as to how we can define the interactions with this type of machine learning, and through our research we are presenting the first and most needed features by this age group:
Coach – The design utilizes goal-based AI to learn the older adult’s personal goals, like getting up more often, connecting with family, or learning more on a particular topic. It then proactively nudges them activities toward these targets in a personalized manner.
Connector – The screen provides an easy way to video chat with family and friends and view the latest family photos, but the device is also able to send and receive text messages and calls, or connect to social messaging.
Engager – The home companion can proactively suggest to play music, share the news, find and play videos, or read audiobooks.
Companion – The structural ‘character’ element can use speech, lighting, sound, images and movement to subtly convey emotion, showing understanding and support.
Lookout - The unit has a series of monitoring features built in that can be turned on if desired, including the ability for a caregiver to check-in with the device through social media.
Using natural language processing, with computer vision and emotion detection capabilities calibrated specifically for the needs of older adults, ElliQ interacts with the naturalness of a companion, but with a unique aesthetic form that defines its own category of being. As older adults can often times have difficulty navigating technology, ElliQ takes the lead by offering activities (physical, mental or social), in a way that feels unobtrusive and organic.
The design process for ElliQ was an intricate multidisciplinary exercise – with experience designers, graphic and industrial designers working in tandem with Intuition Robotics research to define an entirely new category of robot. The form needed to feel elegant, something an older adult would have in their home, without taking up too much space or looking like a toy. The base hides sensors and microphones to maximize the utilization of the AI without seeming too gadget-like, and the companion entity is comprised of an anodized aluminum base and textured plastic head with elegant curvature and organic colors – a composition that wants to be a beautiful tabletop object rather than a robot. A speaker built into the base carries a tiled ElliQ logo pattern, adding depth in order to balance the weight of the entity’s movement.
The app and on-screen UI are also meant to be intuitive, and unique for an elderly audience. Instigating conversation and activities, the UI learns and adapts to its user in order to maximize engagement. Based on pre-set goals, ElliQ may prompt you to call a friend or relative, read or watch a TED talk, or even go for a walk if the weather is nice. Unlike traditional interfaces, ElliQ does the work for you – providing you the tools to engage without any technological barrier. It can even prompt you and your caregiver to fill out a survey of interests and goals, making its interaction points even more personalized to you.
I often say that the perfect robot shouldn’t look like a Hollywood robot at all; rather, it should be a device that fits seamlessly into your home and enhance your everyday life. ElliQ does just this – it’s a beautiful object that subtly, and playfully, keeps us engaged and mentally active into old age. ElliQ is a utopian example of Artificial Intelligence for the near future, developing a relationship in which we can learn, grow, and thrive as an aging population.