United Church Homes Explores New Artificial Intelligence Robot to Better Serve Residents

A group of friends at UCH’s Pickfair Square in Pickerington, Ohio, gather around ElliQ. Photo credit: Ashley Bills, United Church Homes.

United Church Homes (UCH), based in Marion, Ohio, has long focused on the ways technology can better serve its residents. But its focus has not just been a response to the COVID-19 crisis — a period in which people and organizations increasingly have relied on technology to stay connected with friends, family members, and work. Quite simply, technology is an avenue by which UCH staff can better serve the unique needs of its residents.

“Each UCH community is unique and so too are residents’ needs and preferences,” said Amy Kotterman, UCH’s director of customer experience.

Most recently, UCH teamed up with Intuition Robotics to become a pilot test base for a new artificial intelligence technology initiative called ElliQ. Intuition Robotics is test piloting ElliQ at various independent living communities, and describes ElliQ as a friendly, intelligent, inquisitive presence in older adults’ daily lives. Although similar to Amazon’s Alexa, it is distinct in two important ways — it is empathetic and proactive.

Currently, more than one-third of the devices being used in the United States are in the hands of UCH residents. ElliQ engages them in conversation; facilitates health check-ins; encourages physical activity; streams various genres of music; sends messages; reports news, sports and weather; and engages residents in cognitive games.

ElliQ interacts with a resident. Photo credit: Brittany Tidrick, United Church Homes

“We are currently the largest test base for ElliQ, with approximately 70 residents using it across a number of our communities,” said Michael Hughes, UCH’s senior executive vice president and chief transformation and innovation officer. And one of the best parts, he added, is that after the pilot program ends later this year, residents participating in the pilot program will be able to continue using ElliQ at no cost for as long as they wish.

ElliQ interacts with residents through a robotic persona, which moves and turns, engaging the resident. “Over time, ElliQ learns residents’ personal interests and preferences,” said Dan Fagan, UCH’s executive director of housing and services. “As part of the pilot, UCH residents offer feedback that will inform further development and help identify new ways to keep seniors engaged.”

ElliQ is a highly complex artificial intelligence technology. It doesn’t pretend to be a real person and isn’t intended for use with memory care patients. ElliQ has no face or eyes, its voice sounds like that of a robot, and it includes a tablet to display information. It encourages residents to stay hydrated, to take medications, engage in physical activity and has an internal calendar to remind users of appointments and upcoming events.

UCH “recognizes that families are looking for consistent and reliable connection with their loved ones that can transcend crises like COVID,” Hughes said. “And our test program will examine the efficacy of this.”

But in the end, partnering with Intuition Robotics to bring ElliQ to UCH is all about promoting abundant aging, wherever a person calls home. “And,” added Hughes, “if we are caring at a distance, we believe solutions like ElliQ have the potential to make the positive, trusted and sustainable connections we seek to carry our mission forward. This is what we are testing and this is what we hope it will achieve.”

Read more about ElliQ and other technological advances for UCH residents in this article by Ashley Bills in the Winter 2022 edition of Spirit Magazine.

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