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Home Robots Make Life Easier – So Long As You Can Control Them
Study shows how the biggest challenge facing robots in the home is humans
Imagine sitting on your sofa with a robot controller in your hand. Your home robot is bringing you a cup of tea. You navigate it out the kitchen towards the sitting room and then bang! – it collides with the doorway and spills the whole cup on the floor. This scenario illustrates what researchers at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland believe is one of the main obstacles to the smooth integration of robots into our homes: the poor operating skills of novice users.
Traditionally, robots have been used by trained professionals in outdoor settings deemed too dangerous for humans, such as during military operations or in disaster response. However, advances in the technology mean that robots are quickly becoming possible in domestic environments too, in situations ranging from performing household chores to supporting elderly and disabled users.
In an article published in Applied Ergonomics, the Trinity College team describe how they analysed the operating skills of 50 untrained users as they navigated robots through a virtual reality home. Three main criteria were studied: overall time taken, number of collisions incurred and total distance travelled. People didn’t do well. The team found the participants frequently performed poorly at the tasks, including tackling doorways and dealing with variable lighting and contrast in rooms.
Team member Conor McGinn points out that what makes this study interesting is that it evaluates a robot’s performance based on factors beyond the designer’s control. “We are approaching a point where a robot’s biggest limitations may not be due to intrinsic factors, but external ones,” explains McGinn.
The team found a high variance in the first-time operator’s ability to control the robots. It suggests that users should undergo training, and perhaps sit a proficiency test, before it is deemed safe for them to have a robot at home.
If we are to successfully integrate robots into our homes, we may need to rethink the way domestic spaces are laid out. “These results suggest that for service robots to provide greatest utility in the built environment, ‘robot factors’ may need to be considered by architects, builders and people concerned with the design of buildings,” says McGinn. Robots are coming, we’re going to have to learn how to live with them.
McGinn, C. et al.: “Controlling robots in the home: Factors that affect the performance of novice robot operators,” Applied Ergonomics (2017)
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Computing functionality is ubiquitous. Today this logic is built into almost any machine you can think of, from home electronics and appliances to motor vehicles, and it governs the infrastructures we depend on daily — telecommunication, public utilities, transportation. Maintaining it all and driving it forward are professionals and researchers in computer science, across disciplines including:
- Computer Architecture and Computer Organization and Design
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- Human Computer Interaction (HCI), User Experience (UX), User Interface (UI), Interaction Design and Usability
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