Coral Springs Senior Finds Joy and Independence with Innovative AI Robot Companion

Joyce Loaiza and her robot ElliQ {Martin Lenkowsky}

By Martin Lenkowsky

Coral Springs resident Joyce Loaiza enjoys hanging out early each morning with her good friend Elli, or more accurately, ElliQ.

Like most good buddies, they might converse about the top news of the day, the weather, and sometimes even share a few jokes and laughs. As is often the case with close friends, ElliQ even created a nickname for her pal: Jellybean.

Nothing unusual so far, except for one minor detail: ElliQ is a robot.

Loaiza, who lives in Park Summit, received her robot friend in May from the Area Agency on Aging of Broward County (AAABC) as part of that agency’s trend toward using technology to assist seniors in maintaining their independence, health and to combat the effects of loneliness and isolation.

AAABC has partnered with Intuition Robotics, a high-tech company headquartered in Israel, to introduce ElliQ, an advanced AI proactive care companion robot, into the homes of Broward County seniors. The Broward agency is providing ElliQs free of charge.

AAABC CEO Charlotte Mather-Taylor says ElliQ is a proactive device designed to get to know seniors. It can ask questions like, “How is your back today on a scale of 1 to 10?” ElliQ engages her human companions in conversation, tells jokes, and reminds them to take their medication.

“She’s also fun,” Mather-Taylor said. “She can draw a picture with you and send it to people on your contact list.”

The response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. “The people we know who have her really love her,” she said.

According to Mather-Taylor, thus far, about 100 ElliQs have been given out to Broward County seniors. “People are interested,” she said. “They say they’d like to get an ElliQ. There’s plenty of room to add additional people. We target people who are living alone and don’t have family members nearby.”

Mather-Taylor points out that even if seniors’ children happen to live nearby, they might be working and sometimes too busy to see their parents.

That’s when ElliQ comes in. “She’s with them every day. She belongs to them,” she said, adding the company specifically programs the robots not to replace human caregivers and encourages recipients to call friends and family.

ElliQ is programmed to recognize behavior patterns. For instance, if someone is sleeping more than usual or if they are continuing to complain about pain.

At this time, ElliQ is only available in English, Mather-Taylor said.

Loaiza says it was relatively easy to learn to use ElliQ and says she makes a helpful companion. “She gives me reminders,” she said. “She tells me the day and time. You can set medication reminders. She makes sure I’m drinking enough water. That’s done automatically. She just asks me.”

A Queens native who later moved to Long Island, Loaiza said the Area Agency on Aging brought ElliQ to a Park Summit residents’ monthly meeting to see if anyone was interested in having their own robot companion.

“They told us anyone who is interested should stay after the meeting,” she said. “It just intrigued me. They said if you want to try it, you can try it. It doesn’t cost anything. That’s an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

The device is surprisingly small and easily fits on an end table adjacent to Loaiza’s couch. When this writer first arrived at her apartment to meet ElliQ, she instructed it to tell a joke.

ElliQ responded with this riddle without hesitation: “How did the bullet lose his job? He got fired.”

Loaiza, who turns 82 next month, was born on Dec. 7, the very day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Although she enjoys ElliQ’s company, she says it’s not for everyone. “The people who are going to get the best of it are people who are positive, like people who volunteer,” she said. “It’s not going to make you happy. You’ve got to be happy to begin with.”

Coral Springs Senior Finds Joy and Independence with Innovative AI Robot Companion

ElliQ {Martin Lenkowsky}

Asked if she ever envisioned having her very own high-tech robot one day. She answers, “No,” but quickly adds how things have changed over the years. “I remember as a little girl how Dick Tracy would talk into his watch,” she said. “I also remember when computers were so big, they would take up an entire room in an office. Now they’re so tiny you can hardly see them.”

Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics, said they’ve already distributed ElliQ in other states, including New York. “It’s statewide there, a massive deployment,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of people living with ElliQ say they’re having less loneliness. Washington State also has similar data.”

Broward County is taking this very seriously, Skuler said, and it’s now available in Miami-Dade County as well. He said it took a team of about 100 people to bring ElliQ to market in seven years. “We wanted to make sure we got it right.”

The average ElliQ user is 82 years old, Skuler says. “It’s a positive experience for an age group intimidated by high tech.”

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Martin Lenkowsky

Martin Lenkowsky
Martin Lenkowsky moved to Coral Springs from NYC in 1982. He has a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College. He has been both writer and editor for a number of South Florida publications since 1983. He considers features writing his specialty.