In February, local health officials and fire departments launched a program to provide artificial intelligence robots to Grays Harbor and Pacific counties aimed at reducing loneliness and improving health in an aging population.
The Olympic Area Agency on Aging partnered with Intuition Robotics to buy 20 smart devices, called ElliQ — a small, stationary robot that can initiate conversation, instruct exercise routines and make non-emergency 911 calls.
At the time, Michelle Fogus, O3A’s contract specialist who led the program, said she hoped to have half the participants enrolled in the program by March. In a recent press release, Fogus said the program is currently “very close” to having 20 participants, but also expects to “have enough extra funding for another two or three participants.”
“We’ll be creating a wait list once all of the spots are filled so that we can add people later if more funding becomes available,” Fogus said.
That means those 60 and over who live alone or spend most of the day alone still have a chance to pick up a virtual companion. According to the press release, qualifying participants need not have serious difficulties with speech, vision, hearing or cognition that might impede their use of the robot, and preference is given to those who already have internet access and live in either Grays Harbor or Pacific counties.
“It’s a very promising new technology,” said Laura Cepoi, executive director of O3A, in a press release. “Early results in other states have been exciting, with a vast majority of users reporting less loneliness and better overall well-being. We’re interested in seeing whether it provides useful support for older adults in our rural areas, which don’t have as many resources as our urban neighbors and the relief it may offer in terms of social isolation, caregiver shortages and bridging the digital gap.”
The pilot project is funded by American Rescue Plan money and grants from the Grays Harbor Community Foundation and the South Pacific County Community Foundation.
O3A is coordinating with local fire departments, including Aberdeen and Pacific counties, to identify people who might be eligible. Lani Karvia, public education coordinator for Pacific County Fire District 1, said the robot can be especially helpful with fall prevention and recovery. Elderly people who fall can use the device to call for help, and in the following weeks and months, the robot can help users stay active with daily exercise to avoid future falls.
Although ElliQ is not an emergency device, Karvia and Fogus said it has the potential to reduce strain on EMS systems.
People interested in enrolling in or recommending someone for the final slots in O3A’s ElliQ pilot program can contact Michelle Fogus at 360-580-6001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.