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New York to Bring Companion Robots to Seniors' Homes

The New York State Office for the Aging has launched a new initiative to bring companion robots into seniors’ homes — and they go beyond the common virtual assistants to proactively support seniors’ needs.

ElliQ companion sits on table.  The companion includes ElliQ on a dock with a tablet. The tablet reads: "stress reduction" and "inhale."
Photo courtesy of Intuition Robotics.
In an initiative to combat social isolation, the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) will bring companion robots into the homes of seniors.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way government agencies aim to support seniors through the digital divide has shifted. In New York, area offices for aging have even recently turned to animatronic pets to combat social isolation.

Now, NYSOFA has turned to another type of robotic companion: ElliQ by Intuition Robotics, a product that uses AI to provide proactive care for seniors’ needs.

The device is essentially a virtual assistant with a tablet that sits in the dock beside it. The device operates through voice commands when addressed by name; for example, a user could say, "ElliQ, what's the weather today?"

The initiative, announced last month, started with a demo for the state’s aging service providers, as there are 59 county area agencies on aging that NYSOFA works with, NYSOFA Public Information Director Roger Noyes said. The next step will involve case managers determining which older adults in their caseload would benefit from this technology.

These determinations are based on interest, age and a comprehensive assessment to screen for social isolation to see if the ElliQ device can help improve outcomes; outcomes will be measured through self-reporting, metrics gained through the platform and interactive relationships with case managers.

The plan is to begin the setup process with individual users this summer.


Noyes said that what makes this device unique is that it prompts questions for the user based on AI. For example, if a user says they slept poorly, that information will be stored, and ElliQ may change prompts or questions to follow up on this and explore possible factors, like hydration or chronic pain, to see if those things can be improved on.

“If you tell her, ‘I’m going to go walk the dog,’ now she knows you have a dog,” Grace Andruszkiewicz, Intuition Robotics director of marketing, explained, stating that the device may then ask the user the next day whether they have plans to walk the dog.

She said the product combines proactivity with empathy to create an assistant that, over time, the user may see as a roommate of sorts, as it builds a tighter relationship with the user.

The user can set goals — for example, health and wellness goals — and then the interactions the device initiates will be goal-driven. For example, ElliQ may suggest things like breathing exercises or nighttime routines.

“Over time, as people share more information about themselves, she can kind of cater to what their individual needs and preferences are,” explained Andruszkiewicz.


Social isolation has reached an “epidemic scale,” Noyes noted, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought that to a new height. The effects of isolation can create tangible impacts on physical health and on public health expenditures, he explained.

Seniors are the target market, Andruszkiewicz said, because there’s a huge opportunity for impact. Citing demographic shifts, like the aging baby boomer demographic, increasing life expectancy and a decreasing birth rate that reduces the number of caregivers, there are a huge number of people who could benefit.

The state has over 800 devices to distribute to seniors, she said. The company will provide presentations for staff at area agencies for aging and for the end users.

These presentations will vary in style, from explaining the device’s capabilities through a live interaction to more general tech education — how various technologies can help address various challenges related to aging, and how ElliQ specifically can help.

And the device has settings that can be customized specifically for users with hearing loss or vision loss, in addition to a nighttime mode that dims the screen. Volume can be adjusted through voice commands in addition to a rotary dial that older adults may be more familiar with.

To combat the impact of social isolation, NYSOFA has launched a number of tech-related initiatives recently with more in the works.

So far, the state has delivered over 4,000 animatronic pets to adults in their homes through the area offices on aging, which has resulted in a 70 percent decrease in loneliness for participants. This program will expand with over 10,000 more pets to be distributed, funded through the state budget.

Additionally, the state has launched a virtual platform in partnership with GetSetUp for older adults to take online courses on a variety of subjects. Other states like Nebraska have also embraced this learning platform. Another newly announced effort, in partnership with Trualta, is the creation of a web-based caregiver platform that state residents can use free of charge. It will help connect caregivers with older adults as well as people with disabilities.

Noyes explained that while some of the office’s initiatives were in progress prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent closing of senior centers led NYSOFA to re-examine the delivery system for resources: “We realized that there were all of these technological platforms that could fill in the gap and provide a supplement for individuals that are facing social isolation.”

Noyes refutes the claim that older adults don’t use technology, stating that the data the agency has acquired through these initiatives underlines tech’s value for this demographic.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.