Designing affective technology

We know how to make products that are easy to use and understand.

But what about emotions? What about designs that delight? What do we know about how to produce an emotional impact?


Technology that is closest to interacting with humans as fully socio-emotional humans is affective technology. If we said before that we are not bad at technology, technology is bad at us, then affective technology is one of the most exciting opportunities for technology to be good at us, even including our socio-emotional “programming .” It designs interfaces that account for human concerns such as usability, touch, access, persona, emotions, and personal history This approach to devices can be exceptionally low-friction (if well designed), and not only respects humans’ limited amount of attention, but actually rewards it positively through constructive emotional reinforcement from the technological device itself The principles of affective technology represent a significant step in making an Internet of Things that is responsive and helpful to humans

In Japan and elsewhere, many residents of nursing homes for the elderly seek companionship, but find none . Real companion animals are expensive, and difficult to feed and toilet train . Paro, shown in Figure 2-5, is a robotic companion in the shape of a baby harp seal . The robot has a touch sensor for petting and a light sensor for lightness and darkness in the environment Posture and temperature sensors detect whether it is sitting on someone’s lap or bed . Paro also has a direction-based auditory sensor to detect greetings and its own name


Elderly residents in Japan with their Paro robotic seal companions.

Paro can be trained to increase or decrease a certain behavior by remembering whether it is stroked or punished for a specific action . The soft, robotic animal responds to interaction as if it were alive, by moving its head and legs and emitting the voice of a real baby harp seal . Paro is well loved in Japan . In addition to being the subject of a number of research studies proving its helpfulness, it is now a mainstay in many Japanese assisted living centers, and is especially helpful for residents living with dementia and depression Paro provides animal companionship without the maintenance, and has a robotic body that universally responds to touch

Affective technology can work with the needs of people and create experiences of delight . Delight is something that can be achieved when the needs of humans and the interaction of technology are matched up . In

some cases, counter to what we said about non-affective technology in the previous section, it can work as a stand-in when a human resource is not available or nearby

Guy Hoffman, now co-director of the media innovation lab at MIT, was inspired by the animation of the Pixar lamp to consider just how emotion could be built into robots and objects . He noticed that existing robotics possessed jerky and uncoordinated movements; it was difficult for people to identify with them He strove to create robots with cleaner, more friendly and more “human” movements . Going to animation school and studying acting, he was able to build in more emotive reactions and “soft” movements into the robots . People interacting with them identified with them(as we do with anything properly anthropo- morphised), finding them to be engaged, happy partners to work with .


Roboticist Guy Hoffman with one of his “Robots with Soul.” Illustration by the author.

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