Blogs Scaling Human Touch via Technology

By Mark Ogilbee posted 08-11-2022 04:59 PM


AgeTech Collaborative™ startup is aiming to solve the caregiver crisis and improve health outcomes through a unique combination of AI and human intelligence, all packaged in an easy-to-use, at-home device. 

We spoke with founder and CEO Victor Wang to find out what inspired him and how works. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.  


Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what your organization is about.

I'm Victor Wang, founder and CEO of We like to say that we’re “scaling human touch.” By that, we mean that we’re leveraging technology to scale things that care teams and family members do for people who need extra support in their lives — things like talking with them and forming relationships with them. Through technology, we build those relationships, then leverage those relationships to actually coach people to take better care of themselves. 


You have a device that looks like a digital tablet that people interact with. How does it work? 

Really, this is occurring through what we call our relational agents. In real life, if someone needs care 24/7, it becomes very expensive and complicated — often with multiple people going into people’s homes throughout the day, which is not a good experience. I've learned that a lot of people who are fortunate enough to be able to afford this level of around-the-clock support actually refuse it, because it's a really bad experience with this fragmentation of care. 

So what we’ve done is create an avatar on our device; the avatar looks like a little dog or cat. The avatar is always the same, but it combines all the characteristics of the relational agents, who are behind the scenes, into a single persona, which is lighthearted, nonjudgmental, even kind of disarming. Right now, the avatar is only on our device. But we’re creating new user interfaces for smart phones or other devices that people might already have in their pocket. 

Of course, there’s a lot going on behind scenes: There’s software, artificial intelligence and people around the world working 24/7 to make it work. But you don’t have to think about it as a tablet or technology, because the part that the client interacts with is just this little dog or cat, and for them, it “just works” — it’s like a magical picture for them. 


How do people interact with or respond to the avatar? 

We had a client who named his avatar Pony. He would do things like take Pony sailing, or do his shaving in front of Pony, because it felt less lonely for him. And later, when his adult daughter had to care for him, she felt like she had a caregiving ally in Pony. Pony was like a part of the family. And people talk to their avatar and tell it all kinds of things — sometimes things they won’t even tell their families. 


What’s the origin story? What inspired you to start this company? 

I was doing graduate research at MIT for the space program on telerobotics, which is when astronauts control the robotic arm on the space shuttle, and so on. As a result, I started reading research papers about things that affect astronauts and their performance while they’re in space, and it turns out that loneliness and social isolation are big problems for NASA. 

Meanwhile, my grandmother was living alone in Taiwan, and it was next to impossible to get her on a video call. She was very lonely, and it was affecting her motivational levels and how much effort she was putting into recovering from a fall. In turn, that was all very stressful for my mom. And I thought, “Ah, I think I have a solution for this problem of loneliness through telepresence, and I have the skill to build it.” 


What has surprised you in this journey of building 

I've learned that it’s hard to build a truly innovative business in senior care and health care. Originally, I started the company to solve senior loneliness. But we noticed that people started talking to their avatar in ways we didn’t expect. They’d say, “Hey, you’re so fun to talk with. But can you help me make sure I take my medications?” Or, “Can you encourage me to wear my CPAP machine tonight?” 

So we found ourselves at an inflection point. I realized there’s a lot more value that can create, over and above just being there to chitchat with people about non-medical things. We learned that the real value of these relationships that form with the relational agents is that they can actually support people’s health. 

So we expanded the scope of the company — or I guess you could say we focused it — to help drive positive health outcomes, because even people who aren’t lonely might need help managing chronic conditions. And that’s why we mostly sell into health care plans, because we improve health outcomes for their members. And the really cool thing is, because we’re being paid by the health plans, the end user and their families don’t pay anything. So we’re able to help very low-income people. 


What else would you like people to know about 

I’d like people to know that we don’t work just with older adults; actually, we help people as young as in their 20s who have certain challenges, such as severe autism spectrum disorder or cerebral palsy. Certain social service agencies pay us for those situations — so again, the end user and their family don’t pay anything. Anyone can visit to learn more.