Founded by Lee St James in 2019, Social Robots is a social enterprise specializing in using companion robots to improve the quality of life for older adults. Our goal is to help recreation leaders in retirement homes and LTC facilities to leverage technology to better engage and entertain residents and reduce the impact of social isolation, loneliness and boredom.
As a value-added reseller of commercially-available robots, the company offers customized robot apps and digital content including online support for staff and volunteers who can quickly be trained to serve as robot handlers. After successful pilot studies in 2021, Mindy, their first social robot, is available for lease or purchase.
On February 25, 2022, we officially announced the availability of the iPal2 robot – the new Mindy with a 10″ screen/tablet on the chest! Click the image to the left to watch our 1 minute introductory video.
Lee saw first-hand the impact of social isolation on her father who was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia in 2018. At the time, she was commuting 3 hours per day to and from her full time job in Toronto where she oversaw a team designing robot apps for banks and automotive.
Her parents were determined to ‘age at home’ and steadfastly refused to even visit any of the retirement homes in their area. Unable to see her father in person as often as she would like, Lee started researching the use of robots for elder care. She kept thinking “Robots must be able to help. Why hasn’t anyone figured this out yet?”
By late 2018, the burden of caregiving was taking its toll on their mother. Together with her sisters, they convinced her parents that it was time to move into assisted living. Despite showing an interest in the monthly activity calendar, her father continued to decline and isolate himself in their room. He didn’t want to participate in group activities or go to the dining room.
In September 2019, her dad was moved to a long-term care home and he passed away a few weeks later – just 14 months after his initial diagnosis.
Evolution of Social Robots
While companion robots have been around for decades, the rate of adoption in North America is far below that of Asia and Europe where the aging demographic trends and staff shortages have been more compelling.
Lee incorporated Social Robots in November 2019 and had just started a pilot test at Seasons Retirement Community in Milton, Ontario in March 2020 when the COVID pandemic swept across the globe. Since they were deemed non-essential visitors, the pilot test was postponed and Lee shifted her attention to conducting research and applying for grants.
In January 2021, she received a grant from the Oakville Community Foundation to conduct a pilot study in Halton region. That was followed by additional field testing with a Seasons Retirement Community (in Welland, Ontario) and three paid trial visits in the summer of 2021.
Click here to listen to the webinar hosted by Seasons in September 2021. Lee speaks about the evolution of social robots from robotic pets to humanoid technology options. She also presented some of the research highlights.
It takes a Village…
Lee knows that her ambitious vision will take a large team of people to bring to reality. She is currently networking and looking for co-founders or strategic partners who share her vision.