Assistive robotic products use personal information to provide support to elders and their caregivers. Jodi Forlizzi is constantly keeping human computer interaction in mind as she develops the right designs for these robotic technologies.
What are your main goals in developing service robots?
One goal we have is to provide people with the social and emotional informational support they need — but these intelligent objects also give us a way to collect and provide information about people as it becomes useful. For example, our SenseChair, a chair with sensors in the seat, back, arms and legs, can take information on a sitter's position or length of time seated. That data helps us know if a person becomes less mobile or fidgety, or if they've fallen asleep in an uncomfortable position. The SenseChair can then present an ambient reminder to the user through light or sound to motivate them to stay mobile and active. Moving forward, we're looking for the chair to assist with, or entirely perform, certain tasks on cue. For instance, if a tea kettle was boiling, the chair would be able to alert the sitter or actually turn the kettle off.
Where are you in the design process for the SenseChair?
We have developed bits and pieces of this work so far. The sensors have gone through an iterative design process of 10 to 12 activities. We started with 124 sensors and are now down to 28, allowing us to get a lot of information with fewer sensors. We are currently studying how people respond to certain lights, sounds and vibrations. All of these pieces happen independently and then contribute to the whole design.
What design challenges are you facing?
On a high level, as designers we need to be concerned about collecting information that is private. Ethically, how do we collect and present that information in the right way? From a logistical standpoint, it is hard to create prototypes. We only have one, so it is tough to get that out for testing. Right now, we work with elder retirement centers in Pittsburgh, PA and with geriatric specialists. We are also hoping to build a community of smart homes that would contain our designs for people to live with for long periods of time.
What spurred a focus on Human Computer Interaction (HCI) in robotics?
HCI was born out of three disciplines: computer science, psychology and design. With the first computer, programmers realized that there was a difference between people creating code and those using the system. Psychologists came along with theoretical models of humans and designers, then moved the focus from usability to how technology fits in the context of a user's life. Designers always try to work with and study the people who would be using the design. As a result, the scope of HCI has broadened, improving efficiency and ease of use in the workplace to new contexts of use such as homes and vehicles.
Interaction design benefits robotics in terms of the relationship between experience, design and emotion and how to design for tangible and sensual interaction.