Tag Archives: social robot

Robot Companions for Seniors

Photograph of smiling elderly woman using a tablet computer.Medical technology is allowing us to live longer but increased longevity also means more of us will live alone. Our average life expectancy is rising but we will not all live to be 100 or older. For seniors living alone, there are now solutions to help with basic living, scheduling, and social tasks that can help keep them independent.

Robot Companions

Isolation is a problem for many people living alone. They may be unable to get out to interact with other people or they simply may have no desire to do so. This is where robots could help. Intuition Robotics has recently introduced ElliQ, an artificial intelligence (AI) robot that interacts with seniors. While this robot does not have traditional arms and legs it is designed to keep seniors in touch with others and help them track appointments and even suggest activities. Most importantly, it works through a natural speech interface. It communicates through a combination of lights and sounds and voice. Because it incorporates machine learning, or AI, it learns habits and preferences and helps set and remember daily schedules and routines.

ElliQ is designed to be a fixed robot but other robots, such as Softbank’s Pepper, are mobile. At this time it can only carry the built-in tablet which acts as its interface, but it can follow or get to people who are less mobile. This is a relatively new device that is starting to be used in retail shops to interact with customers.

Robokind has developed Milo, which is a combination of ElliQ and Pepper but with more humanlike limbs and facial expressions. It accepts voice input and interacts with people through natural voice output and body language. Milo is being touted for seniors and those living alone and for people on the autism spectrum who can benefit from his personal interaction.


I can think of other benefits of these robots. They could aid and encourage music practice. For example, they could be programmed to be a metronome while I practice an instrument. Better yet, they could provide another part of the music that I am playing. For example, if I play the guitar, perhaps the robot could play bass violin or another part to accompany me. Another use could be practicing or learning a foreign language. With the right programming, the robot could provide many components of good language learning courses—lessons, immersion, repetitive practice, immediate feedback and correction.

All of these things keep the mind active and hopefully slow the inevitable aging process. Repetitive tasks such as music or language lessons can increase brain activity and general life satisfaction. With the aid of technology, those extra years can be rich and rewarding.


Can you think of other applications that would help seniors, particularly those living alone? Will robot apps become a new industry? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Will Social Robots Improve Our Quality of Life?

Touch to the future--robot and human touch fingertips.I came across an article on social robots that made me think about their potential uses. The first social robots were developed in the late 1990s as an experiment to create an optimal human-machine interface. These robots generally have human characteristics such as eyes and a mouth, and they can interact with humans based on visual and audio feedback gathered through microphones and cameras. They express themselves through speech and movement from their humanoid features.


The first social robot was created by Cynthia Breazeal as part of her graduate studies at MIT. She is currently an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT as well as the director of the Media Lab’s Personal Robot Group. Her original research focused on the viability of human-robot interaction, and from this research she created Kismet, the first social robot. Since Kismet was created, other social robots have been built with even more sophisticated anthropomorphic features and more powerful sensors. These are fine for playing games, but how can they help us in our real lives? It turns out that they may have profound potential for helping some people.

Breaking Through Autism

Social robots work well with children because they can be made to appear friendlier than humans. This is especially important for children with autism. In a recent study at Vanderbilt University, it was found that children with autism spectrum disorder paid more attention to robots and followed their instructions almost as well as they followed instructions issued from humans. There is a lot to decode in a human face when trying to learn a new task. Emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, fatigue, and boredom can be subtle, and children may not recognize the cues quickly. Robots present a nonthreatening interface that increases the development of social communication skills in children, particularly those with autism.

Socially Assistive Robots

A robot named Paro is helping seniors to become more focused and engaged. The robot resembles a baby seal and is designed to fill the role of a pet without the potential mess or responsibilities. The Paro robot has microprocessors and sensors that respond to touch, light, movement, and voices. In a pilot project, it proved especially helpful with seniors with dementia. While it is not designed to take the place of family members or caregivers, researchers have found that the nonthreatening nature of Paro tends to draw people out and encourages them to talk about things in their lives or their memories.


I have written before about assistive technologies, but I am excited about the development of social robots that can help foster communication skills. We have had robots for years that operate in manufacturing and work in areas that may be hazardous to humans. Robots that are more personable and interactive can help break through barriers that we sometimes struggle to breach. Some are concerned that robots will take over tasks that we should be doing for ourselves, but in this case, I welcome the assistance. What do you think? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.