Robot Vacuums Need Personalities!

What is the ideal personality for a robotic vacuum cleaner? A recent study performed by researchers from Delft University of Technology and Philips Research in the Netherlands made some interesting discoveries.


(Robotic vacuum cleaners need personalities)

[A robot vacuum cleaner] exhibits autonomous behavior and it moves around our homes and affects our daily lives. This is very different from conventional, non-robotic vacuum cleaners. People are no longer in full control of what the product is doing, where and when. People need to understand and trust the robot vacuum cleaner. Crucial for the user experience and acceptance of the product is the design of appropriate interaction between human and robot.

An accepted and widely used model that describes personality is the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality, also referred to as the Big Five. This model organizes personality traits in terms of five basic dimensions: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness... But in their daily lives, people do not only use human personality characteristics to describe people, they also use these to describe products and interaction with products. Or more specific: interaction with computers, robots and—as we have seen—even robot vacuum cleaners.

We discuss the most relevant results with respect to the desired personality here. The [study] participants desired a calm robot vacuum cleaner (6 participants out of 6); it should express that it is in control of the situation.

Furthermore, they wanted the robot vacuum cleaner to be cooperative in nature (5 participants). All of them desired an efficient robot vacuum cleaner (6 participants). They wanted it to like routines (5 participants), as vacuuming is very much a routine job. The participants desired a polite robot vacuum cleaner (5 participants), as well as one that behaves in a systematic way (6).

Douglas Adams wrote about this in his 1979 classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He called them "Genuine People Personalities":

“Ghastly,” continued Marvin, “it all is. Absolutely ghastly. Just don't even talk about it. Look at this door,” he said, stepping through it. The irony circuits cut into his voice modulator as he mimicked the style of the sales brochure. “All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.”

As the door closed behind them it became apparent that it did indeed have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. “Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!” it said...

"Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation," said Marvin, and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved corridor that stretched out before them. "Let's build robots with Genuine People Personalities," they said. So they tried it out with me. I'm a personality prototype. You can tell, can't you?"
(Read more about Adams' Genuine People Personalities)

From Robot Vacuum Cleaner Personality and Behavio via Spectrum.

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