The Ohmni telepresence robot was featured in an article by the San Francisco Chronicle about robots to help families check in on seniors.
She sat on the plush sofa at the back of the room in Walnut Creek, watching, as her neighbors strolled and laughed and talked with the robot.
It was the first time Lou Fleming, 90, had ever seen such a thing. And she had been working with computers for decades. None, though, were anything like this.
The robot, a skinny contraption with a tablet perched atop a long pole fixed to a three-wheeled base, was being driven remotely by one of its creators, Jared Go.
Go, who was actually sitting in the OhmniLabs office in Santa Clara, said he felt like he was in the room. His face appeared on the tablet’s screen and his voice came through a large round speaker as he made the machine walk, nod and dance with interested seniors.
For about a month, OhmniLabs has been conducting trial runs at senior living facilities. The idea, said Ohmnilabs CEO Thuc Vu, was to introduce the robots to the people OhmniLabs hopes will eventually be their core audience: seniors.
On Wednesday, the company began a free pilot program for Bay Area families, letting people sign up to receive a robot to use in their own homes.
Initially, Vu said, the company will be looking to see how seniors react to having the robot in their day-to-day lives — what they like and dislike — as well as other ways families find use for the bots. Initially, he said, the focus will be on communication, though it may not be exclusively used for social calls.
Family members could use the robots to check in on older relatives in ways that a phone call — or even a video chat — may not allow, Vu said, including checking up on the environmental safety of a home, providing medication reminders, and so on.
“The seniors can continue to do whatever task they’re doing, and the caregiver or family member can control the robot to communicate with them or go with them wherever they go,” Vu said. “You can make sure they’re OK, make sure they’re following their diet, taking their medication, make sure the house looks safe. Life doesn’t happen in one room.”