Companion Robots for Elderly: Tech Fad or Cure for Loneliness?
During the 2020 pandemic, most people realized how much they rely on regular face-to-face communication and socialization in their daily lives. Living in isolation, or away from friends and family, can be extremely difficult no matter your age or background. With 2023 popularizing usage of artificial intelligent programs, a new type of companion has risen that’s always at your side: A companion robot.
What is a Companion Robot?
A companion robot is similar to a chatbot, which we cover in our article on ChatGPT, a popular chatbot. A chatbot is a computer algorithm that you can type messages to and get responses back similar to what you’d see in an actual human conversation. The difference is that the “thing” that you’re talking to is just a computer. You can ask a chatbot questions, have a conversation, and even get help with difficult tasks.
But companion robots for seniors go beyond basic chatbots to assist and empower an independent lifestyle. Companion robots are sometimes entirely digital and other times have physical counterparts that reside in your home. These companion robots help establish healthy habits, provide basic games, help schedule appointments, and even help you connect with friends and family through messages and video calls.
Companion robots aren’t all necessarily this involved, however. If you’ve heard of Alexa, Google Home, or Amazon Echo, you’re already familiar with companion robots! So what makes these devices companion robots? What are some examples of other companion robots? In this article, we’ll be going through a few popular AI companions and the pros and cons of using them.
ElliQ is an all-in-one AI companion that has a small physical counterpart. Appearing as a small table lamp, ElliQ sits on a base and can look around and speak. It also has a screen with a camera next to it for video calls and displaying information that you may request. ElliQ is designed for adults 65 and older who need help aging in place while living alone. It requires a WiFi connection and a power source to operate. ElliQ can help with:
- Entertainment & companionship — Have conversations, listen to music, hear about the news and weather, and play games.
- Health & well-being — Set appointments, reminders, get exercise ideas, and receive daily check-ins.
- Connections to loved ones — Message and video call friends and family, display pictures of your favorite moments on ElliQ’s screen, and send out digital cards.
- Helpful for making it easier to interact with the digital world
- Useful for reminding you of tasks or appointments
- More lifelike than the competition
- Expensive — Elli-Q costs around $250 to get started and monthly/annual subscriptions run $30 to $40 per month, depending on your terms.
- Can be invasive — will sometimes reach out and try to engage you rather than being passive or reactionary to commands
- Only available in English
Less of a companion robot and more like a digital butler, Alexa smart home is nonetheless a useful AI assistant that helps make your life easier through simple voice commands. Operated by Amazon, Alexa works through a multitude of devices that connect to your home and allow you make daily routines that much easier. Connect with your thermostat, TV, or even light bulbs to operate devices with a simple voice command: “Alexa, set the temperature to 70 degrees.” Alexa Smart Home can help with:
- Automating daily tasks — Connect with any other smart device on your network to avoid having to find the remote, walk over to the thermostat, and other routine tasks.
- Connect with others — Video call friends and family through smart devices like the Echo Show.
- Age in place — Use Alexa’s routines and reminders to make life easier; check out our guide on using smart speakers like the Echo Show to age in place!
- Simple automation and control for your home
- Integrates with Amazon for simple shopping
- Allows you to connect with other family members
- Cold, robotic — Alexa doesn’t converse
- Technically advanced to set up
- Privacy concerns over personal data
Replika is an AI companion that functions through smartphones like iPhones and Android devices. Once you download the app, you get access to an AI companion that you can message similar to anyone else that you can text. Replika is focused on being a companion rather than a tool like some of the other AI tools we mentioned. This means that Replika won’t be able to schedule appointments or help you manage your home. However it will be able to hold more advanced and thorough conversations than some of the other AI companions. With Replika you can:
- Create a companion — Customize the AI to a companion that suits your personality and needs.
- Privacy — Conversations between you and the AI remain private and your personal data isn’t shared.
- Learn with Replika — As you use Replika to learn more about the world, Replika learns more about you.
- Has more personality than other AI tools
- Operates on smart devices you already have rather than requiring a separate purchase
- Actively learns more about you and your interests
- Requires a monthly subscription for use
- Not as much utility (yet) — currently focused on socialization
- Requires smartphone to use
Does an AI Companion Robot Help Combat Loneliness?
It’s true that an AI can assist with basic tasks like scheduling appointments, operating devices in your home, and telling you about the weather, but will it mitigate loneliness and even depression?
This is a sensitive topic, as every person’s individual experience with loneliness is different, however studies show that many adults over 64 did not think that robots would help mitigate loneliness. Many participants cited the knowledge that the robot isn’t human to be something that they were uncomfortable with. Privacy concerns and use of personal data was also highlighted as a concern toward AI companions.
While there’s no actual evidence that AI companions can help with loneliness and depression, everyone’s story is different. Many people cite the safety and convenience features as being more important than the artificial companionship features.
What is your experience with AI tools and chatbots? Do you utilize an Alexa device in your home? An AI may not be able to replace a person, but it can help you get to your appointments on time!