Roomba’s Successful Multispecies Interface

In home robotics are still struggling with trying to interface with humans, but it will surely be necessary to coexist with our co-species.

Roomba robot vacuum cleaners has pioneered many aspects of home automation, achieving the exalted status of being a generic term for this class of device (like “Kleenex” or “Bandaid”). Their cultural status is marked too, by pioneering the “cats riding roomba” video genre.

Now that we know that cat videos are as sneaky as the little feline varments themselves, let’s just do a “cute dog” video, which should be safe to use, right?

There are several interesting things. First of all—aww, what a cute doggy, and so video friendly!

Second, it is interesting to see that Chester has figured out the stop button on the Roomba. It looks like the “intuitive” interface is, in fact, intuitive across species boundaries!   Well done, Roomba!

How ever he discovered the stop button, it’s no secret at all how he discovered that stopping the robot makes mom pay attention.

We can note the different understanding of the technology by the two species, and the different goals they pursue in their shared use of the device. Mom thinks she is vacuuming, Chester thinks he is playing with mom. They are both right.

This is an example of a deeper point for home robots: whenever there are more than one person (entity) in the home, operating the robot is a multiplayer game. So much of the literature is all about treating a personal robot as if it is a personal phone: controlled by and interacting with exactly one person, and customized to that person. The reality is otherwise. Robots need to understand, or act as if they understand, all the people and animals (and robots) in the situation.


Robot Wednesday

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