Cronkite News, Arizona PBS

From food robots to an app for loneliness, COVID drives technological research

Cindy Jordan’s Pyxir robotic companion

While much of the technology being created around COVID-19 focuses on physical health, Pyx Health in Tucson is exploring some of the mental health issues that have surfaced, specifically loneliness and social isolation.

Cindy Jordan is CEO of Pyx Health, which uses technology to address loneliness and social isolation. Its mobile app features Pyxir, a “carebot” that provides 24/7 companionship.

Since the pandemic was declared a year ago, researchers have been examining its effect on loneliness and social isolation. One report released in October by the AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation found two-thirds of U.S. adults were experiencing social isolation. Almost a third of adults reported going one to three months without interacting with anyone outside their home or workplace.

Social isolation has been linked to increased risks of dementia, heart disease, stroke and premature death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pyx is looking to help, with a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to assist people who are especially vulnerable. The app features Pyxir, a “carebot” that can provide 24/7 companionship and support. It helps screen for loneliness and determines whether a user needs human contact or additional resources.

“It’s a little counterintuitive to think that we are going to use technology to solve loneliness, but it is incredibly important because loneliness is so pervasive that you need a scalable solution that people can use in the moment,” Pyx CEO Cindy Jordan said.

Jordan designed the app to be nonclinical, she said. Users won’t be asked for specific information related to physical health. Rather, the robot learns how to treat a person emotionally, based on what the user shares, making each experience unique to the individual.

“If we are going to ask people to engage in a platform, it needs to have a personality, it needs to be a humanlike experience,” Jordan said.