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Generally, the entrepreneurs are design-


ing technologies to help seniors more easily stay connected with the wider world, be constantly in touch with their families and caregivers, be intellectually stimulated and entertained, and stay physically capable and mobile, among other things. “Good design is discreet,” said Yves


Béhar, the Swiss designer who is world- renowned for his ability to incorporate emerging technologies with beautiful and whimsical, but practical, designs. The San Francisco-based designer set the tone for the conference with his opening keynote speech on the principles of good design in the age of AI, robots, and smart environments. “Discreet in the sense that it doesn’t take you out of the moment, out of your every- day life,” he told his audience. “This is un- fortunately what technology has done to us in the past few years. This is my experience: I come home from work, and I have some automation, so I may dim the lights and put


some music on. My children immediately think I’m texting, that I’m on my cell phone or social media. This is a clear issue that we have with technology and social media. It’s taking us away from the people who count the most in our lives.” That is why he is increasingly trying


to design products that avoid that trap. For instance, he worked with the Israeli social robotics firm Intuition Robotics to design ElliQ, a social robot that doesn’t have a face, but instead is an internally-lit cream-colored cone equipped with a cam- era and microphones. It swivels around and jokes, converses with, and suggests activities for older adults. A tablet for displaying con- tent accompanies the cone. For their part, Intuition Robotics’ co-founders Dor Skuler and Itai Mendelsohn wanted to create a product that could engage millions of so- cially isolated seniors around the world. ElliQ can recognize its user, play games, schedule rides, make jokes, announce re-


minders of various kinds, and suggest activ- ities it learns that its user engages in—such as Skyping with a family member, watching a TED talk, or even a walk. Unlike Alexa, who passively responds to commands, this robot with a female voice initiates engage- ment with its users. Like its U.S. competitor JIBO, it sits on a counter and is voice-acti- vated. (JIBO started shipping early Novem- ber 2017. ElliQ will ship sometime in 2018.) The social robot creators believe that


their creations can be more than simple de- vices that execute commands and entertain. They see them as potential coaches. Both Skuler and JIBO’s creator Cynthia Breazeal of MIT suggested that the robots could become coaches for seniors and encourage positive behaviors that could help them achieve their goals, like staying healthy, for example. Neither Skuler nor Breazeal sug- gested that the robots should replace human companions. Rather, they can augment se- niors’ lives with joyful, fun interaction.


ISSUE 6 2017 / ARGENTUM.ORG 31


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