Robot pets. Robot caretakers. Robot boyfriends. Robotic Futures* is an immersive experience for small-size audiences and small-size robots that uses performance as a way to explore past and present ideas of what robots may be in the future and how they may become embedded in our homes and in our lives. Through this performance we set out to learn about the design of social robots for the home.

*a world in which robots are doing all the work and straining their super-intelligence to serve us dinner and please us better and solve our problems to sell us products so they can pay their taxes will not be quite as strange as it sounds.

  • Role: Co-creator, Researcher
  • Collaborators: Rachel Karp (co-creator), Judy Oden Choi, Michael James
  • This project was funded and supported by an Alfred Z. Spector and Rhonda G. Kost CS+X Grant.

This work is a design-led inquiry into how robots might fit into our homes and into our personal and social lives in the future. Social robots have been a promise for many years, yet it is still unclear what their role will or should be.

Design research frequently looks at what is the right thing to design, as opposed to how to design things right. Our goal was to use immersive theater performance as a platform to explore robot designs within the full echo-system of the context and world in which we image they would fit into.

Post-performance we reflected on the outcome and the behaviors of people and technology to better understand the questions, unresolved issues and challenges that designers are yet to solve on the path towards implementation of socially sophisticated robots and agents in the home.

Everyday Science and Mechanics, 1935.

Electron, 1967.

Design Process

We devised this immersive experience through a range of design and performance methods, iteratively discovering the topics, ideas, questions and design that we wanted to focus on.

The starting point was with a collection of historical images that depicted future robots, taken from magazines between the 1920s and the 1970s. We wanted to begin with getting a sense of how people have perceived robots over the years on our way to better learn what roles robots might fulfill in our lives.

We analyzed and grouped these ads to identify some recurrent categories, such as These categories we identified were healthcare, childcare, entertainment and emotional support. While the collection of historical depictions of robots were not exhaustive, they allowed us to start off from a set of topics we knew people find interesting, intriguing or disturbing.