user experience of materials for personal robots in a home environment

Project Materials for Robots

Role Research, Prototyping

Summary Physical touch is essential for the user experience of personal robots and is oftentimes overlooked in research and product design. I explored the user experience of 3-D printed soft and hard materials for a personal robot through a scenario-based study as a part of my senior capstone project (2016). I conducted a study with 16 participants that included a questionnaire, scenarios of use involving physical touch of the robot with different materials, and concluded with user interviews. I summarized the results of the study in a paper with Professor Bilge Mutlu. Read the paper.

participant completing the study

An example of a participant interacting with the material parts and robot.

Scenarios of Use I chose five scenarios that represent typical user activities with the robot in a home environment and created storyboards to help give context to the user. These included carrying the robot from one place to another, rotating the robot so that it would face the participant, gently pushing the robot away from the participant for privacy, hugging the robot, and dropping the robot.

storyboards of scenarios of use

Storyboards showing scenarios of use include pushing the robot and hugging the robot.

Materials and Testing The study focused on plastic materials that could be 3-D printed. Polyurethane represented a structurally soft material, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene represented a structurally hard material, and Silicone-coated Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene represented a hybrid. I used the material torso parts along with a complete 3-D printed robot, based on the HELLO ROBO platform. The material properties of the materials were obtained through Dynamic Mechanical Analysis. These properties shape material behaviors, such as the sound that a material makes during impact or whether the material bounces or fractures.

materials used in the study

This image shows the three materials used for the robot: Polyurethane (left), Silicone-coated Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (middle), and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (right).

a participant completing the study

A participant picking up the robot.

Findings and Future Iterations It was found that users preferred the softer materials over the harder materials, but their decisions depended on the context and anthropomorphic characterizations. This study focused on plastics that could be 3-D printed, but future studies should expand and include more materials such as textiles, wood, etc.