Israeli robotics startup Intuition Robotics has raised $14 million in a series A round of funding led by Toyota Research Institute (TRI), with participation from existing investors including OurCrowd, iRobot, Maniv Mobility, Terra Venture Partners, and Bloomberg Beta.

Founded out of Tel Aviv in 2015, Intuition Robotics emerged from stealth back in January, touting itself as a company “developing social companion technology to positively impact the lives of millions of older adults.” By way of example, its first product is Elliq, an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven robotic companion that resembles a piece of furniture or a lamp that sits on a table conversing with its owner.

Elliq uses “natural” communication methods — including “body language” — to display emotion. And it uses sounds and light, in addition to voice, to express itself. It also promises to improve over time through machine learning that helps it adapt to the owner’s needs.

Above: Elliq

Prior to now, Intuition Robotics had raised around $7 million in funding, and with its latest cash injection the company will be able to expedite the development and testing of Elliq.

The involvement of Toyota’s research arm, TRI, is a major coup for the fledgling robotics startup. TRI’s previously stated mission is to use AI to “improve the quality of human life,” both through its core automotive business and by “expanding the benefit of mobility technology beyond automobiles” into areas such as in-home support of older people and those with special needs.

This investment markets TRI’s first outside investment in robotic technology for adult adults, a spokesperson told VentureBeat.

“We are honored that TRI believes in our approach to help older adults stay connected and engaged through our first product, ElliQ, the active ageing companion,” noted Dor Skuler, CEO and cofounder of Intuition Robotics. “This strategic investment illustrates our joint beliefs in the potential of social robotics in keeping older adults connected and engaged and in overcoming the digital divide using cognitive computing and natural communications.”

Intuition Robotics is one of a number of “companion robots” companies to emerge in recent times — earlier this year AvataMind launched its iPal Companion Robot, which is designed as an educational and entertaining friend for children and elderly people. Elsewhere, RoboCare Lab launched a campaign to place robots in nursing homes and schools across France, while Japanese tech titan SoftBank has created the “emotionally intelligent” Pepper, a robot capable of analyzing human gestures and expressions.

Elliq, by contrast, doesn’t take a humanoid appearance — and this could make it more appealing to older users.

Elliq was the result of a collaboration with Yves Béhar, a Swiss designer who had been chief creative officer at recently defunct Jawbone. “The idea of having a robot companion is quite dystopian, especially for older generations,” Béhar previously explained. “Through years of research, we were able to develop a design language and user experience that feels natural, with subtle expressions to develop a unique bond between Elliq and its owner. Elliq could never replace human interaction, but it can be an important motivating factor in keeping older adults healthy and active when living alone.”

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