iNkondi is designed to speculate about alternative human-robot interactions and stimulate discourse on non-utilitarian technology for destruction and catharsis. It is a robot-doll that is interacted with by inserting pins into its body, and it reacts by contracting and visibly pulling its material in.
Because of the tight relationship between design, technology and the economy, new product development is biased to focus on utilitarian value. However, ethnographic investigations show alternative uses of artifacts have accompanied humankind for millennia.
While destruction and catharsis are ambiguous topics, we have found that they had had positive applications throughout history and until this day. In this work, we suggest a design space that could embrace the positive aspects of destruction, as opposed to omitting the topic from the field of human-computer and human-robot interaction (HCI and HRI).
One such example, that was a significant inspiration for this project, is Nkisi Nkondi. Nkisi Nkondi are religious idols from the Congo Basin that functioned historically as a target for nail insertion rituals. Each nail symbolized emotional release, an agreement made, or correction of a social wrongdoing. We exemplify our ideas of destruction as part of the human experience with a design-case of iNkondi.
In the design process, we set out to explore conceptual ideas of destruction outside the boundaries of existing human-robot interaction paradigms. This included input interaction of pin and nail insertion (C-H, K), bone breaking (J), feather plucking (B), and teeth pulling (C). On the robot’s side, some optional reactions included gestures (J), muscle contraction (E), facial expressions (A) and bleeding (B, C). We also explored ideas of the robot having internal layers that are exposed over time (J) or serve as a source of growth (K).
We created scenarios to explore how the robot can be interacted with in three main categories: creation through destruction, catharsis through destruction, and emotional expression through destruction. Some of our considerations included the choice of location (public, household, or private) and the role of the sensing abilities as part of the interaction. We also considered how a privately interactive robot would generate a different type of interaction than one that takes part in a larger community, or how different people might interact with robots for destruction differently.
Creation through destruction
Catharsis through destruction
Emotional support through destruction
We designed a prototype to learn more about the interaction through physical interaction and making.
Input Circuit⎯The sensing of a needle poke was developed using a layered material structure. The structure consists of two layers of conductive material separated by insulating material.
Output Circuit⎯The output modality is movement, actuated by using shape memory alloy (nitinol wire). When a needle is inserted as input, the corresponding output circuit is activated and contracts one of the robot’s body parts. When the needle is removed, power stops flowing into the output circuit, which allows the wire to return to its loose state by cooling down.
The iNkondi also had a single motor added to its neck—an additional expressive degree-of-freedom. Furthermore, because the upper body is connected to the legs, the motor movement creates expressive secondary motion in the robot’s shoulders and upper body.
We set out to emphasize the hybrid nature of the robot by combining traditional aesthetics with modern prototyping. The traditional side is expressed in soft materials, exposed handcrafted seams, nail, pins, and a cube-shaped space in the robot’s abdomen as common in traditional idols. For the prototyping context, we used 3D-printed parts, a carbon-fiber structure, a micro-controller in a highly visible place, and limb connectors that resemble the aesthetics of the micro-controller.
In a process of rapid prototyping, we created several prototypes to test the interaction and to build the technical capabilities step by step.
Prototype 1 tested the input of a needle corresponding to an output of motion. We used two separated layers of conductive material that were connected by the inserted needle. For the output, we used shape-memory alloy in order to have expressive and non-mechanical motion (see video).
Prototype 2 tested the sensing of inserting a needle in various locations of the prototype’s body. It also allowed us to develop a visual digital interface that can help communicate the use of the prototype.
Prototype 3 was the final prototype for this project at its current stage. We used the final materials we intended for the body, and we used needles as input and shape memory alloy that moves limbs as output.