by Zohra KhanMay 21, 2022
In the midst of the Alexas and Siris of the world, ElliQ caters uniquely to its target group of older adults, acting to alleviate their growing alienation from modern technology - especially at a time when staying connected via digital means remains tantamount to meeting people physically. However, its modi operandi extends far beyond its social oncomings. Backed by significant design research carried by both, its parent company Intuition Robotics, and creatives at fuseproject, headed by Swiss designer Yves Béhar, ElliQ dives into this potential fear amongst adults as they age. While the studio’s findings during successive stages of beta testing reveal that around 50% of adults are affected by worries of social alienation and declining health, ElliQ endeavours to capitalise the realms of robotics and AI to take on these oft overlooked challenges, introducing “a new category of robots and interactions, both physically and interactively”.
Subverting the typical notion of a robot akin to a humanoid, fuseproject’s design project imagines its companion robot like a non-locomotive albeit beautiful table top object. With a screen and a ‘companion’ structure comprising a fluid yet geometric form factor, the design seeks to askew the ‘vernacular’ in a robot, blurring its shared boundary with an object. The screen and the companion, entirely distinct and unconnected, signify the input and response mechanics of the robot. In a rather minimal assembly, the physicality of ElliQ’s being is rounded out by the hinged companion and screen being attached to a slim anodised aluminium base. Subtle gestures, easy enough to replicate by older people, bring ElliQ to life in a “relatable and disarming manner”, establishing an intangible trust with this artificial companion.
ElliQ’s functioning is choreographed akin to an act; and the screen and companion being untethered from each other enabled ElliQ to include a wide range of functions and capture a wider range of expressions. Subtle ‘emotional’ expressions are displayed using diffused LED lighting incorporated within the structure, while the head’s motion lends it personification, improving the product’s accessibility. The screen also doubles up as a multimedia display apart from being ElliQ’s modem of communication, capable of being mounted on the cradle display, handheld by the user, or freestanding using an attached easel. This proves to be particularly helpful for users with hearing impairments who can now read subtitles on-screen without one essential component in ElliQ’s functioning interfering with the other. “Keeping these elements separate allows for broadened modular use without breaking the emotional bond with the character”, further states the design team at San Francisco based fuseproject.
Furthering its drive to appear friendlier, uncomplicated, and unintrusive as a technology, ElliQ’s base hides its sensors and microphones in an armature of elegant curves and organic colours, likening its appearance to a table lamp or electronic display frame more than an actual robot. Additionally, the base also houses a speaker along with a tiled ElliQ logo pattern - a counter to balance the weight of the head’s movement. Furthermore, the sophisticated gadgetry incorporated into ElliQ’s body uses natural language processing, computer vision, and emotion detection capabilities calibrated for the needs of older adults to facilitate naturalistic interactions and conversations. In many ways, ElliQ takes the lead by suggesting and offering physical, mental, or social activities for its older compatriots to engage in.
Between coaching, connecting, engaging, companionship, and looking out, ElliQ works to involve its users in holistic activities, while learning and picking up their habits to tune them more finely. The gamut of activities under its umbrella include personal goals like getting up more often, connecting with family, learning more on a topic, video chat with family and friends, view photos, send and receive text messages, calls, social messaging, suggesting music, sharing news, reading audiobooks, monitoring health, engaging caregivers to check in, and even offering emotional support or ‘showing’ understanding, enabled by speech, lighting, sound, images, and movement. It then proceeds to proactively encourage action toward these targets through personalised voice prompts.
What’s truly impressive though is despite enabling these activities, the app and on-screen UI continuously learn and adapt to their users to maximise engagement. While prompts on pre-set goals fulfil its manual engagements, what makes it somewhat ‘human’ in that capacity is that ElliQ may even prompt one to call a friend or relative, watch a TED talk, or go for a walk when the weather is nice. Based on Intuition Robotics’ Care Program that recorded data from hundreds of test users stating how the companion was used and interacted with on an average of 20 times per day for 20 minutes, ElliQ leverages knowledge, proactive engagement, and previous conversations to uniquely project empathy and build trust with its users, aiding the machine in alleviating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“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 ageing population”, conclude the design team on the innovation’s intent and conception coming full circle. Following five years of extensive research and insights from beta testing with older adults, Intuition Robotics launched ElliQ into the market in March, 2022.