If an elderly person can’t drive, he or she may feel lonely and isolated. Sometimes a pet can help lift spirits, but sometimes a pet is too much work. It wouldn’t be quite fair to say “there’s an app for that,” but technology is working on a solution: Robotic companions.

SwissCognitiveTwo of the biggest hits at the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit , a conference held in Berkeley, Calif., in July, were ElliQ , a slick new rival to Siri and Alexa aimed at providing older users with a virtual friend of sorts, and Hasbro’s Joy for All robotic cats and dogs . To be sure, ElliQ ) is not yet on the market, and the Hasbro pets  — while adorable — didn’t seem all that different from past dolls that will talk and go for a walk (to paraphrase Meredith Willson’s 1951 Christmas carol ). And no one suggested that real live human companionship was on the way out, or could adequately be replaced by machines.

Seeking a ‘High Social Impact’

Instead, the problem these technologists are trying to solve is loneliness and isolation. Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics, the Israeli company behind ElliQ, said he and his two co-founders are all in their 40s, with aging parents. “We were looking to impact their lives,” he said. “We asked the experts, ‘What’s the largest underserved problem?’ It was loneliness and isolation. And the root cause was the digital divide.” The company opened an office in Los Altos, in Silicon Valley, two months ago, and has assembled a dream team to put ElliQ together, from renowned designer Yves Behar to famed user experience architect Don Norman. Intuition Robotics is working with what it says are leading academic experts in the fields of cognitive computing, human-robot interaction, machine intelligence and robotics.

A conversation starter

A video that Skuler showed,  featured the elegant ElliQ — decidedly non-humanoid in shape, but instead built with design inspiration from the animated lamp in Pixar’s logo. The gadget sits on a table next to an iPad-like device and speaks with a female voice, much like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Only instead of waiting for the user to start the interaction, ElliQ will take note of activity around the house, saying things like, “It’s a beautiful day. Would you like to go for a walk?” […]