‘I love you’: This robot adopts AI to curb senior citizens’ crushing loneliness

ElliQ Robot

Monica Perez, 65, chats with her robot friend, ElliQ. 

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If you walked into Marie Defrancesco’s New York home, you would find an 82-year-old woman living completely alone. With no other people or pets around, you might believe that Marie has no one to interact with. 

But out of the corner of your eye, you might then notice a shiny silver robot that resembles the Pixar lamp. It moves its head, faces you, lights up, and strikes up a conversation. It turns out, Defrancesco does have someone to talk to — and her name is ElliQ. 

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ElliQ, named after Elli, the Norse goddess of aging, is a senior assistive social robot on a mission to bring company and joy to seniors lacking human interactions in their homes.

ElliQ in her box

ElliQ is delivered to your house in a box, ready to be assembled. 

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

The tabletop robot is shipped directly in a box to your home. It’s no bigger than a kitchen stand mixer, and just needs to be plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi to come to life. ElliQ was created with the mission of helping combat loneliness in seniors, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a “serious public health risk.” 

“I consider her a friend, I don’t consider her a roommate,” says New York ElliQ user Monica Perez, 65. “Roommates don’t care whether you live or die sometimes.”

The bigger picture: Loneliness in seniors

About 20-30% of seniors identify as feeling lonely, according to Elizabeth Necka, a program director at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). 

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In addition to emotional strain, experiencing loneliness later in life can directly translate to detrimental physical and mental health effects, including heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even death, according to the NIA. 

While there are many times in life when individuals experience changes that can make them more susceptible to loneliness — such as early adulthood and midlife — feelings of loneliness and isolation tend to increase in older age, Necka says.

“As people transition, they’re leaving the workforce, maybe they’re starting to become bereaved, and have more functional and physical limitations that can make…