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12/12/2010 / korayozsoy

An Ethnographic Study on The Roomba Vacuum Cleaner in the Domestic Environment in Italy

In recent decades, robots have appeared to be more present in our domestic lives in order to correspond to different needs and purposes of use. Some of them serve to entertain inhabitants, whereas others focus on performing specific services. The majority of studies in the literature indicate that even old, traditional tools are being replaced by these new robotic products that are used for the same or similar tasks.

Honda ASIMO the humanoid robot (1)

Apart from product replacements, the domestic environment contains other variables and factors, which are primarily affected by these new technologies both in positive and negative ways. More importantly, these various factors tend to change dynamically in response. As a consequence, new smart technologies, which robotic products are a promising part of, become a catalyst for change considering the variety of key factors and players in the surroundings.

However, still little is known about the impact of new smart home technologies within the domestic environment. Even though researchers have already started studying service robots and human interaction mainly in laboratories, there is a big need for studies to be conducted in real domestic environments. It is a compelling necessity for both technologist and designer to develop a deeper understanding of the domestic environment before planning the future of robotics.

Starting with that perspective, I recently conducted a research in Italy that aims at contributing to Human-Service Robot Interaction (HSRI) literature by exploring the effects of these named technologies within the domestic environment, in particular by studying an existing product example in a specific area. Its main focus is on the interaction between Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, and dynamic factors within the domestic environment in Italy. These dynamic factors are envisioned as cleaning products, people, daily activities and the environment. Finally, the study also explores the general concept of domestic robots with respect to the position of Roomba in Italian society.

Roomba Discovery Series (2)

The research model is mainly inspired by the “Product Ecology” approach by Jodi Forlizzi. By following product ecology guidelines, the thesis aims to approach an ethnographic design-focused research model to discuss existing literature findings through new perspectives and open new arguments to contribute to the future of robotics.

The study opens up with an overview of the literature. Then, two separate qualitative surveys are conducted among Italian people through online platforms. First survey is designed for Italian Roomba users, and contains questions about house organization, cleaning habits and routines, Roomba experience as well as user demographics. It is mainly designed to deliver first impressions and findings about the Roomba interaction and experience in the domestic environment in Italy. The other survey is specific for those who never had Roomba experience before, and it is composed of questions related to cleaning habits and routines, domestic organization and demographics. It provides a base to compare findings of the first survey and gives a summary of Italian cleaning habits and domestic organization. In addition, both surveys investigate how Italian people would anticipate and picture the future of domestic robots. The survey phase is followed by a series of observational interviews with Italian Roomba users. Interview sessions explore same topics in details by additional support of records and photographs.

The envisioned schema of Roomba product ecology

In conclusion, the cumulative analysis of both surveys and interviews reveals that Roomba causes drastic changes on cleaning activities, and it creates strong emotional bonding with its owners. On the other hand, Roomba does not bring forth long-term engagements regarding cleaning products and environmental structure. The last part of analysis points out three main topics about the overall robot concept in Italian society. Those are the importance of robots’ visible movements, the references communicated with the intelligence of robots and the relationship between the generations and robots’ reliability.

Koray Ozsoy
June, 2010

Keywords: Product Design, Interaction Design, Product Ecology, Robotics, Human-Service Robot Interaction, Domestic Service Robot

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1) <http://www.wikipedia.org&gt;, accessed at 04.04.2010.
2) DiSalvo C., Forlizzi J., 2006. Service Robots in the Domestic Environment: A Study of the Roomba Vacuum in the Home, Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGCHI/SIGART Conference on Human-robot Interaction, pp. 329-336, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, March 2-4.

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