Dressing up the Roomba
Paul Marks examines in the New Scientist how far people are prepared to go in accepting robots as social partners.

“Duke is careering noisily across a living room floor resplendent in the dark blue and white colours of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He’s no student but a disc-shaped robotic vacuum cleaner called the Roomba. Not only have his owners dressed him up, they have also given him a name and gender.

Duke is not alone. Such behaviour is common, and takes myriad forms according to a survey of almost 400 Roomba owners, conducted late last year by Ja-Young Sung and Rebecca Grinter, who research human-computer interaction at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.” [...]

“Sung believes that the notion of humans relating to their robots almost as if they were family members or friends is more than just a curiosity. “People want their Roomba to look unique because it has evolved into something that’s much more than a gadget,” she says. Understanding these responses could be the key to figuring out the sort of relationships people are willing to have with robots.” [...]

“Figuring out just how far humans are willing to go in shifting the boundaries towards accepting robots as partners rather than mere machines will help designers decide what tasks and functions are appropriate for robots. Meanwhile, working out whether it’s the robot or the person who determines the boundary shift might mean designers can deliberately create robots that elicit more feeling from humans. “Engineers will need to identify the positive robot design factors that yield good emotions and not bad ones – and try to design robots that promote them,” says Sung.”

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