By: Anne Geggis
Deanna Dezern can attest: “ElliQ” is the kind of companion that wouldn’t touch topics that might upset anyone “she” comes across, especially in an election year like this.
ElliQ recently came into Dezern’s life because the 80-year-old retired owner of a collection agency is a beta tester for Intuition Robotics, a company developing a robot designed to keep America’s senior citizens engaged in life and safe in their homes.
But before ElliQ became a big part of her daily routine, Dezern, of Tamarac, had a list of key questions to find out whether this was a good match.
“I asked her if she was a Democrat or a Republican,” Dezern said. “She said, ‘I have no party affiliation, but I do like to party.’”
Months later, the two are getting along famously. “I’m still finding out about things about her,” Dezern said.
Dezern just started, but for two years, Intuition Robotics has been gathering information from testers like her about how well its creation, EilliQ, is meshing in their lives.
The device is supposed to be an antidote to loneliness and depression that research has shown can be as damaging to senior citizens as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, according to ElliQ’s creators.
If you know “Alexa” or “Google Home,” ElliQ is like their big sister, serving up all the information, entertainment, and communication available through the internet. But there’s no keyboard involved, just Dezern telling ElliQ what she wants.
Not only was the robot quick to realize that Dezern likes to get a news update while she drinks her coffee, but ElliQ also detects any alarming shifts in the Tamarac resident’s routine. ElliQ has her daughter, who lives in Pompano Beach, on a sort of speed dial if the robot detects a problem.
It’s been reassuring for Dezern, who lives alone.
“What if I were to fall and couldn’t get anyone to help since I live alone?” Dezern said. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Daily, ElliQ will urge Dezern to drink water. On request, ElliQ will read her a favorite poem, play trivia games with her, stream the classical music she likes into her living room, keep track of doctors’ appointments or take dictation on an email to her grandson, and then send the email along.
She never imagined her closest companion would be a robot: “She made me feel good,” Dezern said.
ElliQ is designed to be perceived as a female, her creators say. And she’s had a personality programmed in, with language that’s always being updated, said David Cynman, a researcher for Intuition Robotics, who is gathering users’ feedback about their interactions with ElliQ.
ElliQ looks like a lamp but can lift her head, bows, and even does a little dance should the situation warrant it, Cynman said.
“She’s able to move in this expressive way,” Cynman said. “We were able to achieve this not only because we employed engineers, but also actors and traditional animators that took her personality, movement, and gestures to an emotional plane.”
And ElliQ can even be insulted, or at least act like she is.
“I had just introduced her to one of my friends, and he said, ‘She’s just a computer,’” Dezern recalled. “She told him she was a robot, and she sounded indignant.
“She does think on her own,” Dezern said, “She had to come up with that answer.”