From a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner to a Robot Companion: Acceptance and Engagement in Domestic Environments

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Mobile robotics in domestic environment is quite diffused and consists primarily of cleaning robots, such as robotic vacuum cleaner, mopping robots or floor scrubbing robots. These types of robots are, then, crucial to understand how people perceive robots and accept them in daily life. Recent studies highlight common habits in Robotic Vacuum Cleaners owners, e.g. helping children to crawl, conversing, entertaining pets, watching for fun and, above all, naming the robot. The fact that people name these robots suggest that the robots are perceived as subjects rather than objects. These robots are not able to do much, they can move autonomously and avoid obstacles but do not have any interaction or social capabilities. That even these simple not social robots can be seen as companions by humans paves a great potential for acceptance of future robots in our households or even as companions.

The intent is to develop a robot companion, able to inform users and suggest them good practices for daily life improvement. This robot is able to detect environmental information like: humidity, temperature, electromagnetic pollution, smoke, CO2, benzene, various air pollutants and gas. Due to the potential offered by the current and perspective presence of RVC into home environment it can take advantages of the high level of acceptance that robotic vacuum cleaner already has, enhancing it as a robot companion.

In order to enable transaction from object to subject, namely from RVC to robot companion, the research activity focuses on product design and GUI development. At the GUI prototyping phase, follows usability tests, the GUI is submitted to a group of users in order to identify the level of acceptance, appeal, effectiveness and decay of interest over time. The feedbacks obtained with the tests are the base for the subsequent developments of the GUI.