It’s hard to know what to make of ElliQ at first glance. Maybe it’s the face that I just spent a chunk of the night staring into the longing puppy dog eyes of Sony’s new Aibo robot dog. Whatever the case, it’s a strange looking thing — a social robot that mimics human movements, but looks more like a desk lamp than your run-of-the-mill humanoid robot.
The two-year-old Israeli startup has certainly attracted its share of fans with deep pockets. The company used the occasion to announce that it’s raised a $20 million Series A thus far, bringing its total funds up to $22 million. The list of investors includes some prominent names, including Samsung NEXT, SPARX Group and Glory Ventures, who are joining Toyota AI Ventures, iRobot, Bloomberg Beta, and a bunch of Israeli VC groups.
The startup is also using the show to debut a more finalized version of the robot that we saw last time we visited with them out in Tel Aviv. Among the biggest distinguishing factors this time out is a much quieter mechanical system — though it was tough to really pick that out on the crowded showroom floor.
ElliQ’s design has largely remained the same. That makes sense; it was famed industrial designer Yves Behar who helped create the robot’s current form factor, after all. It’s full of interesting design decisions, and a bit counterintuitive at first glance. The designers of these sorts of social robots usually like to imbue them with some sort of humanoid or animal quality with eyes and a mouth — or at least something that’s immediately distinguishable as a face. The closest EllQ gets is a light that glows where its face would be.
CEO Dor Skuler tells me that was a conscious design on the company’s part. It’s not going out of its way to create a piece of robot designed to form an attachment to. It’s more of a service bot, designed to keep elderly adults engaged and connected to the outside world. It can take video calls through a pair of on-board cameras (multiple cams gives it a wider field of view) and connected to services like Facebook Messenger.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Skuler and the rest of the staff refer to ElliQ as “she” when chatting, so maybe a little bit of humanization is unavoidable.
The other big news this weeks is the company’s plans to begin beta testing 30 units in Marin County, CA and Celebration, Florida, the Disney World adjacent community. They’ve already tested it with users for a few hours at a time. This time out it’ll live with folks for a couple of months, which really ought to put it through its paces.