New York state officials will distribute robots to hundreds of elderly residents, saying the digital companions will remind them to take their medication, help contact loved ones, book an Uber ride and even engage in small talk and crack jokes.
The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) will deliver the machines to the homes of 800 older adults as a way to combat the growing problem of loneliness, state officials said.
Greg Olsen, the director of NYSOFA, told The Verge that the state will hand out robots called “ElliQ”, which is manufactured by Israeli tech firm Intuition Robotics.
ElliQ is described as a “more proactive version of Siri or Alexa.”
“Many features attracted us to ElliQ — that it is a proactive tool, remembers the interactions with the individual, focuses on health and wellness, stress reduction, sleep, hydration, etc,” Olsen told the tech site.
“It focuses on what matters to individuals: memories, life validation, interactions with friends and families and promotes overall good health and well being.”
ElliQ is a two-part machine that is attached to a base. One part consists of a “face” that is shaped similarly to a lamp. The “face,” which is outfitted with a microphone and speakers, lights up and swivels to face people with whom it is interacting.
The other part is a touchscreen tablet which is capable of making video calls as well as display pictures and information.
Intuition Robotics touts ElliQ as a “friendly presence in your daily life” which is capable of “engaging you in conversation, motivating you to adopt healthier habits, [and] surprising you with jokes and suggestions.”
ElliQ machines are available for a subscription charge that ranges between $30 and $40 per month. Would-be buyers must pay a $250 “enrollment fee.”
It is not known how much NYSOFA paid for the 800 ElliQ units. It is also unclear whether NYSOFA plans to expand the program beyond the initial 800 recipients.
The Post has reached out to NYSOFA seeking comment.
The use of robots to keep elderly people company was introduced well before the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in countries with aging populations such as Japan, Denmark, and Italy, according to Vox.
State governments in New York, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Florida, and other jurisdictions have experimented with similar pilots, such as providing robotic pets to nursing home residents and those who live in retirement communities.
Just a month before a global pandemic was declared, a National Academies report showed that one-third of U.S. adults aged 45 and up were lonely. Surveys have surprisingly found higher rates in younger adults.
Rampant loneliness existed long before COVID-19, and experts believe it’s now worse. Evidence suggests it can damage health and shorten lives as much as obesity and smoking.
In addition to psychological distress, some studies suggest loneliness may cause physical changes including inflammation and elevated stress hormones that may tighten blood vessels and increase blood pressure.
With Post wires