In 2019, I wrote about Flow Neuroscience’s Flow, an app developed to combat depression through engagement. In that article I also mentioned Tracy Crouch, Britain’s first Minister of Loneliness, who was appointed in 2018. The current Minister for Civil Society and Loneliness, Baroness Barran, is the third person to hold the post. Seiko Noda is Japan’s Minister for Loneliness and Isolation. The two ministers issue joint messages about the challenges of isolation including increased incidences of depression and suicide. In the U.S., Intuition Robotics recently announced a new partnership with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) to combat loneliness and social isolation.

NYSOFA is placing Intuitive Robotics’ ElliQ companion technology in the homes of 800 older adults. ElliQ is a proactive and empathetic care companion. The voice-operated device plugs into household AC power and connects to a home Wi-Fi network. The device includes a removable tablet that docks in a base unit that also holds a speaker. Designed to support older adults aging in place in their own homes, ElliQ uses AI to proactively initiate and follow up on conversations and suggests activities.

The robotic companion can prompt sleep relaxation and physical activity exercises, conversations about nutrition, medication reminders, and much more. Users can ask ElliQ for information about the news, weather, sports, jokes, music, and even games. Users subscribe to the ElliQ service and can also speak to wellness coaches, as well as set and monitor wellness goals. The platform performs daily check-ins to assess general health, sleep, pain, anxiety, depression, stress and more. ElliQ can also engage users with cognitive games. ElliQ can set timers and reminders, search for local professionals, and book transportation. Users can connect with friends and family using ElliQ for video calls along with voice, text, and photo messages. In addition, ElliQ also functions as a connected picture frame and can display digital greeting cards. With the user’s consent, ElliQ can also keep family, friends, and caregivers apprised of any health issues.

While helping 800 older adults with ElliQ companion robots is a tiny number, it’s a start in the right direction. We may not yet have a U.S. Cabinet-level Secretary of Loneliness, but earlier this year I wrote about Medicare Advantage plans that can now pay for internet service for qualifying subscribers.