Market Spotlight: Toys/Robotics

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ElliQ, according to Skuler, is the first proactive social robot—and its goal is to help keep older adults active and engaged. “With ElliQ being a robot designed specifically for older adults, we intentionally moved away from humanoid features, into something that feels more like an elegant tabletop object,” says Skuler. “The animated part of the robot can talk and gesture, using multimodal interfaces to proactively suggest activities in order to keep the user engaged with the world around him or her. We included a screen in order to show relevant content for the user, but specifically kept it separated from the entity so as to not break the relationship the user has with her. This also helps us in applying HRI principles in order to drive our user’s engagement.” 

ElliQ can remind users to take their medication, arrange appointments, and simplify the way older adults interact with other technologies (for instance, it can make Skype calls for you). It will also make viewing suggestions and encourage users to do things like go for a walk—just the kind of motivation we all need sometimes but that is especially important for older adults, who can easily become isolated. 

“The technology that enables ElliQ’s ability to initiate interactions with her user is based on our proprietary Cognitive AI platform that allows agents to make autonomous decisions,” Skuler says. “We combined a BDI [beliefs-desires-intentions] model with reinforcement learning. Based on a set of goals we identified for this population—physical, mental stimuli, connectedness with family, educational, and more—the algorithm uses environmental factors to determine which goals are attainable at a given time, proactively suggesting activities to the user. This also includes knowing when not to suggest anything—ElliQ works to understand her user’s needs and personality in order to adapt her approach and characteristics.”

This kind of approach to elder care has been taken a step further in places like Japan, where “robots have the run of Tokyo’s Shin-tomi nursing home,” according to Reuters’ “Aging Japan: Robots may have role in future of elder care.” They lead exercise classes, help guide the disabled, and even provide comfort and companionship. While this may all seem quite fanciful, it’s really a practical solution to a real problem. Reuters reports, “The Japanese government has been funding development of elder care robots to help fill a projected shortfall of 380,000 specialized workers by 2025.”

Robots Delight Young and Old Alike

The market for automated, speech-enabled devices is growing, and they often take the form of robots, whose ability to engage and delight people of all ages is becoming evident. Smart vendors are taking popular technologies like the virtual assistants found in so many homes and tweaking them to work for more specific—and possibly even more useful—use cases and new audiences. But what’s next for this sector of the industry? 

Skuler thinks he knows: “As technology improves, and as younger generations become savvier to working with technology, designing robots that proactively engage will become more common—especially ones that can provide moments of beauty and personalization in their interactions.”

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