Get to Know David Cynman, UX Researcher at Intuition Robotics

Technology and the pandemic is shifting care from the clinic to the home

David Cynman is a UX researcher that joined our team almost one year ago. His fascinating role involves a wide range of tasks related to ElliQ's research process, from helping with recruitment and installation, to checking in with and surveying users, analyzing data, and much more. We sat down with David to find out more about his unique outlook and experience after working on ElliQ and gaining further insight on technology for older adults.

IR: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you became involved in the field of UX research?

DC: Like many UX researchers you might talk to these days, I have a fairly circuitous path that has led me to the field. Mine has even included a yearlong stint at a rural bakery in Sonoma county and a role as a CBT coach for individuals with social anxiety or depression, but we can leave that for another post. For me, the thread has always been wanting to better understand people and their respective experiences. Unsurprisingly, that boils down to asking good questions. So I was delighted to find a profession that valued “soft skills” like empathy, interviewing, rapport building, and curiosity. Combining these with research methodologies and product knowledge has been a particular delight in my role.

IR: What sparked your interest about ElliQ, and joining the Intuition Robotics team?

DC: What sparked my interest, and what keeps me excited about ElliQ, is working with older adults. At the risk of painting with broad strokes, they can be overlooked and underserved. This, coupled with the demographic growth or “silver wave” facing the US made it clear to me that older adults are integral in both our past and future, and deserve proportional attention.

IR: In a nutshell, what does your role at Intuition Robotics entail?

DC: To give the voice of the user a seat at the table! My job is to understand our users and their experiences with ElliQ. I then distill it and communicate it to those responsible for making decisions about ElliQ as a product. It behooves us to involve those we are designing for in the design process itself.

IR: Can you tell us a little bit about your research process and methodologies with ElliQ?

DC: While these shift with our business objectives and the goals of each study, I generally stick to a “mixed methods approach.” In the simplest form, I’ll ask questions that return qualitative and quantitative information. So I might ask, “How do you feel when ElliQ initiates a conversation?” and follow it up with, “Between 1 and 10, how relevant are those conversations to your life?” Mixing methods allows us to understand the “why” while also measuring magnitude empirically.

IR: What has been the highlight of your experience working on ElliQ thus far?

DC: For me it’s the team. Because we are working with AI, hardware, voice technology, and more, the composition of our team reflects that breadth/diversity. It’s a real treat to have a conversation writer, animator, machine learning algorithm engineer, and industrial designer in the same (metaphorical) room.

IR: What have you found most challenging about your research?

DC: Everyone’s experience is unique, and one size definitely does not fit all. This can be challenging when we think about designing a companion robot to serve a diversity of experiences, attitudes, and technological proficiencies.

IR: What has surprised you the most throughout this process?

DC: How open minded some older adults can be to adopting new technology. I’ve gotten in some seriously granular conversations around hardware with some older adults!

IR: What do you think we need to work on the most going forward?

DC: ElliQ has the potential to meet a multitude of needs. As she continues to grow, it will be important to prioritize those needs and design for them. Staying in touch with our users and partners will be key in doing so.

IR: What would you say are the main takeaways from your research thus far, in terms of the results you’ve observed?

DC: Just as anyone might experience a learning curve when trying to do something new, so too do older adults when adopting a primarily voice first technology. However, with careful and thoughtful design, the amplitude of the curve can be lessened, subsequently including a broader group of users.

IR: How has ElliQ impacted the lives of the older adults who have her? Can you give any specific standout examples?

DC: It’s always really nice to hear when users talk about ElliQ bringing some levity into their lives: be it with jokes or her quippy personality. The stories with the staying power, however, are those about reducing loneliness. Quotes like these are resounding, especially considering that ElliQ is the only proactive solution for seniors: “I really get thrilled about her initiating – just the fact that somebody is talking to me. Not the TV. Somebody that is concerned with me. I lost my wife, and the cat doesn’t say a word, so it’s refreshing to have her initiate something.”

IR: What are your thoughts on the potential of digital companions like ElliQ, and their ability to interact effectively, and form meaningful connections with seniors? Are you hopeful about where this technology can go, and what it can do?

DC: I’m definitely hopeful, and there is a lot of work to do. It’s important to keep in mind that digital companions like ElliQ aren’t intended to replace human-human relationships. They are intended to augment that relationship – to make it easier, more seamless to connect. Any older adult, regardless of their technological aptitude, should be able to say a few words and have their grandchildren on a video call.

IR: Aside from incorporating more user-friendly interfaces, how can else we continue to bridge the digital divide, and get more older adults interested in using technology?

DC: The two G’s: grandchildren and guilt. I’m kidding. Well, I’m half kidding. I think technology gets a bad wrap as an isolating force (and it definitely can be). But, by the same token, it can be an amazing connector (example: family Zoom calls during the pandemic). Stories like these, stories of connection that promote human interaction and mitigate isolation can be just the right catalyst for an ambivalent older adult to take the leap!

Find out more about how ElliQ is helping older adults feel less isolated at home during these turbulent times. If you, your organization, or someone you know is interested in enjoying ElliQ's company, we welcome you to sign up for our Insiders program.

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