I’m a Gerontologist and I Work at a Startup

Hi, my name is Keren. I am the gerontologist at Intuition Robotics, where we are building an AI-driven social companion for older adults. What is a gerontologist and what do we do, you might ask. Gerontology is the scientific study of the biological, psychological and sociological phenomena that are associated with old age and aging, as well as the problems of the aged. A gerontology degree wasn’t always as accessible as it is today, but in recent years that has changed and the subject has gained popularity due to the increased longevity of the human race. 

So, what does a gerontologist even do at a startup’?

My Journey

After I joined the company (as employee #1!), I read academic articles and research papers about social robots, specifically, the use of robots designed to assist older adults. We then partnered with ‘Beth Protea’, which is a boutique retirement home in Herzliya. They have a project called ‘Protea Home Care’ in which older adults who prefer to stay at home can enroll in a modular program where each client chooses which services best suit his needs and requirements. I interviewed Beth Protea’s clients about their daily habits and technology use. I also questioned them to find out what’s missing from current technologies that prevents them from using them.

The second round of interviews was done with the grown children of the older adults, mainly those who act as their parent’s primary caregivers. The goal was to better understand their needs and wishes. We also have hosted discussion groups with multidisciplinary teams of professionals who work with older adults to gain even more insights.

One of the main points of the caregivers’ interviews was to understand how the digital divide impacts the whole family. The younger generations have their own way of communicating, the most popular being social media and texting, but the parents or grandparents of that generation are far less tech savvy. Sadly, that reduces interaction with the grandparents, and unfortunately, makes them feel even further from their family and more lonely. 

We then added another study group, partnering with the team at Jewish Family and Children's Services in San Francisco, as well as some of their clients. It was very interesting to see the similarities and the differences between the two populations of older adults.  

Our Users In Mind

These interviews and research have helped us create a user profile and attain an understanding of users’ needs and beliefs, before diving into the development and design of the product.

We let our focus groups and other seniors experience various technologies and voice assistants and requested feedback about different aspects of the devices used. ElliQ’s features were determined by what older adults thought was necessary and useful for them.

It is very important for us to ensure that we are creating the best possible experience with ElliQ and that we help combat loneliness and social isolation through some of the technological advances made in recent years. We are constantly incorporating older adults’ experiences and desires, so that we can make educated decisions about the product;  for example, ElliQ’s ‘stop what you’re doing’ button was added as the result of user feedback.

Our Development Process

The coolest part about my job is that I get to see ElliQ come to life. I got to interact with ElliQ when she was only a few lines of code, and I now share my office with her! My day-today work with the development team is exciting. I get to teach ElliQ new skills and go out into the field to get users’ feedback right after.

When an older adult makes a suggestion about anything related to ElliQ’s functionality, settings or features, I gather and take the feedback to the development team. At this point I can teach ElliQ a new trick with a few simple tools and some magic from the hands of our dedicated team.

As mentioned before, older adults don’t always feel confident to use technology. If you haven’t been in someone’s shoes, it’s hard to know his needs. That’s why our development team also needs to get educated on the needs and aspects of the older adults. Naturally, I’m also in charge of this process. I present the latest research findings, both mine and academic, to the team, to ensure better understanding of the needs of the elderly. 

Additional User Trials

We’re continuing to evolve ElliQ and are looking for additional seniors and their adult children so ElliQ can learn and interact with them. Please email us at info@intuitionrobotics.com if you are based in California’s Bay Area, and would like to participate in shaping the world’s first active aging companion.