Through a range of speculative and alternative human-robot interaction sketches and storyboards, this project intends to stimulate discourse on non-utilitarian technology for destruction and catharsis with robots.

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).

We exemplify our ideas of destruction as part of the human experience with sketches and storyboards based on three subsets of destruction: creation, catharsis, and emotional release.


Throughout history, destruction and creation have been closely coupled. People are just as likely to destroy as they are like to create. Throughout history, people have engaged with things that organically decompose, created for the sole purpose of destruction, or created from the scraps on destruction.

We explore this topic and potential interactions through sketches, including robots that fall apart over time as part of the interaction to expose hidden layers and robots that “grow” but as a result lose their (sometimes no longer needed) function.


Catharsis is the second theme of human destruction with objects. Although research about the topic is inconclusive, the idea of catharsis through venting has persisted, and is expressed in modern day interactions, such as “Breaking Rooms”, and therapy through catharsis. Recent research has also indicated some benefits of letting out anger, including pain relief and a sense of fairness.

In our exploration we consider interactions that use needles as input, that are responded with motion from the robot [A-F]. Other cathartic interactions include pulling out teeth or plucking feathers, that can be emphasized with bursting ink bubbles [G-H]. Finally, limbs of a robot can be pulled out and connected elsewhere as a form of catharsis and creation [I-K].

Emotional Release

Finally, emotional release is a form of destruction that is similar to catharsis, but with a primary goal of emotionally supporting the destroyer. For example, people recreate a wedding band into another form of jewelry, or destroy reminders on a relationship that has ended.

We explore how robots might fit into such interactions, with robots that can be broken apart into several working units [A], or malleable robots that can be re-created according to the user’s desire [B-C].

Personal Interactions
Interpersonal Interactions
Ceremonial Interactions

We created scenarios to explore how the robot can be interacted with in three main categories: personal interactions, interpersonal interactions and ceremonial interactions. 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. These interactions also express the three themes we identified in the literature about destructive behaviors with objects: creation, catharsis and emotional release.


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 prototype is also intended to have 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 would create expressive secondary motion in the robot’s shoulders and upper body.

Hybrid Design

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 and pins. For the prototyping aesthetics, we used 3D-printed parts, a carbon-fiber structure, and an exposed 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.


The project developed into a second part — Cathartic Objects.