Intuition Robotics, maker of elder care assistant ElliQ, announced today that it has raised $6 million in funding from iRobot and equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd. With the funding, the Jerusalem-based company plans to open an office in the Bay Area and begin testing ElliQ with senior citizens in San Francisco.
ElliQ is what the Intuition Robotics team likes to call an “autonomous active aging companion.” The device, which is made up of an interactive robot attached to a tablet, was built to help older adults age in place, while keeping them engaged, active, and connected to the outside world.
The idea is to assist older adults in two main ways: First, ElliQ helps families keep in contact with their older relatives through video chats on the tablet interface. When they’re not around or available, the ElliQ robot also acts as a companion to suggest activities and remind elderly users to take their medicine.
“We all have parents that are aging,” Intuition Robotics CEO Dor Skuler told me. “30 percent of the population is made up of older adults. Many of them deal with loneliness and social isolation, which has a direct effect on health degradation.”
As opposed to assistants like Siri or Alexa, which respond to voice commands, ElliQ uses cognitive computing to proactively monitor a user’s wellness and keep them active. And instead of just using a detached voice, Intuition Robotics hired Yves Behar for industrial design to make sure the ElliQ robot is highly interactive.
“She’s extremely emotive,” Skuler told TechCrunch. “She has different gestures that can show happiness or signal confusion if she doesn’t understand you.”
Bloomberg Beta partner Shivon Zilis, who was an early investor in Intuition Robotics, said ElliQ is “a very respectful and approachable piece of technology for the person who’s still trying to live a fulfilling life.”
While her firm usually invests in companies focused on the future of work, Zilis sees an opportunity for more empathetic AI to emerge from elder assistants first and then find their way back to the enterprise.
“I honestly think we will see a revolution in computer-voice interfaces,” she said. “My best guess is we’ll see the bleeding edge of [machine intelligence] helping people who are aging in place first.”
To grow its team and move ElliQ further along in its user testing, Intuition Robotics has raised a total of $6 million, with investors that include Roomba maker iRobot, Terra Venture Partners, Bloomberg Beta and Maniv Mobility. The company was also able to raise money through crowdfunding platform OurCrowd.
“We really liked the problem they were trying to solve,” Hanns Anders, investment manager for iRobot Ventures, told me. “What intuition has done is taken a practical approach to solving the problem of aging in place.”
iRobot makes investments in early-stage companies using machine intelligence and robotics in areas that it wants to learn more about. Companies also get the benefit of iRobot’s scale in helping to navigate manufacturing, supply chain, and distribution.
“They have vast experience and insights in the home robotics market that is unmatched due to their scale and experience in the field,” Skuler said about iRobot. In addition, he added, “they are offering to help us navigate manufacturing and some design items.”
That’ll be a huge help to Intuition Robotics as ElliQ moves beyond the prototype and trial stage and into production. In the meantime, there’s still a lot of work to do.