This research project explores agents and robots that move their social presence from one body to another (re-embody) and that inhabit a single body (co-embody). Through the method of speed dating using user enactments, we look at how participants experience and perceive such interactions in various contexts.

  • Role: Researcher
  • Collaborators: Samantha Reig, Zhi Xiang Tan, Aaron Steinfeld, Jodi Forlizzi, John Zimmerman

User Enactments

We used speed dating with user enactments as our primary research method. As this is an area in which there are no design patterns of guidelines to draw from, an open-ended method is needed to begin mapping out this complex and unknown design space.

Speed dating allows participants to quickly encounter possible future scenarios by taking part is multiple interactive scenarios. Like romantic speed dating, people might not know much about one scenario or another, but from “meeting” all the scenarios they might get a better sense of their own values, needs and desires from future technology.

We immersed participants in four settings, accompanied by interactive robots and agents to encourage reactions on what people might and might not want: a home setting, a DMV office, a hospital, and an autonomous car.

Design Process

In order to determine the enactments that we would want to test, we went through an extended ideation and iteration process. We generated as many ideas as possible through rapid ideation methods, such as cards, bodystorming, brainstorming and metaphors. Then, we used affinity diagramming to draw out and organize the emerging themes. Finally, we iterated and made design judgements on what topics to include in the enactments. We did not attempt to systematically test the entire design space, but to probe a variety of situations that would generate initial insights and questions about it.

In these scenarios, agents behaved in one of four ways: (1) each robot had their own social presence (presented itself as an entity of its own), similar to the human model of a single brain in a single body; (2) one social presence moved from one body to another, following the user in their task (re-embodiment); (3) a social presence controlled multiple bodies simultaneously; and (4) a social presence entered a body in which there was already another social presence (co-embodiment).

An example of a re-embodiment enactment, in which an agent’s social presence moves from one body to another.


The study required 3 researchers working in a team to create the full experience we intended for participants. One researcher was the experimenter, who guided the participant in the experiences. The second researcher was the ‘wizard’, who controlled the voices of all agents using a Bluetooth speaker, a set of pre-recorded voice clips, and a microphone for ‘live’ interactions. They were connected to the experimenter through a voice-call and had an overview of the study through a live GoPro stream. The third researcher served as a ‘stage-hand’, and was in charge of moving props, cameras, and agents throughout the study.

Findings & Future Work

The findings of the study are currently under review for a publication. They include insights about people’s perception of re-embodiment and co-embodiment, agent expertise, agent ‘mental’ capacity, and user privacy.

The next step of this work is exploring the flip-side of this study — instead of probing situations of a single user with multiple agents, we explore how a single agent might deal with multiple users, as these interactions become sequential and personal.