In a master’s course in design and product development, senior lecturer Johan Blomkvist gave a group of three students the task of designing a concept for a robot for the Östergötland Museum. Two of the criteria were that the robot should be an assistant and that it should use artificial intelligence.
The three students – Julia Kraft, Linnéa Nilsson and Molly Hultman – built a prototype from Lego bricks and a mobile phone. The robot face is displayed on the screen and can switch between several animated facial expressions. They called their creation AIDA, where the two first letters reflect the fact that this robot uses artificial intelligence.
“We wanted our robot to be able to carry out such tasks as collecting entrance fees, scanning tickets and photographing visitors”, says Julia Kraft, a final-year master’s student of design and product development.
A charming rogue
The three students decided that visitors to the museum should interact with AIDA using speech.
“Speech interaction is relatively new, and we were interested to see how it would work. We designed the robot so that you could ask it pretty much anything: ‘When does the restaurant close?’, ‘Where are the toilets?’. It would be nearly the same as a Siri”, says Julia Kraft.
The students gave AIDA two different personalities, and investigated which one visitors preferred.
“We chose to make one personality friendly and light-hearted, and one that we called ‘rude and snappy’. This one was rather unfriendly, but came across as a bit of a charming rogue. Of course, not many people want to meet an unpleasant receptionist, but it was interesting to see how people reacted to a slightly unpleasant robot”, Julia Kraft explains.
Giving AIDA an unpleasant personality may not sound like an obvious choice, but Johan Blomkvist points out that testing unusual ideas is important in design and product development.
“You don’t want to investigate only what you believe to be successful: you should have a range of options. Otherwise, you may miss exciting and fun experiences. Using only yourself as a test subject is a common problem in product development. There’s a risk you’ll believe that everyone can understand something because you understand it, and that everyone wants the same as you do.”
The plan was to test the robot using a “Wizard of Oz” test. In such a test, the robot is controlled by an operator, but those who interact with it believe that it is acting autonomously. However, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group had to rethink the test, and instead showed films in which Julia Kraft interacted with AIDA. The test subjects who watched the film then completed detailed questionnaires.
It wasn’t possible to give a clear answer to which of the two personalities the visitors preferred.
“Some people really disliked the supercilious manner of the unfriendly robot, and several reacted negatively to how it expressed itself. But at the same time other people appreciated its sense of humour, and found it less formal”, says Johan Blomkvist.
Can’t be too innocuous and boring
He believes that a robot with a slightly odd personality can give visitors a more interesting experience.
“Answering practical questions about where things are is only one aspect of the robot. If you want people to visit the museum to see the robot, it can’t be too innocuous and boring.”
Johan Blomkvist’s course has ended, but the robot project will continue.
“Together with the RISE (Research Institute of Sweden), and IoT-hub research institute, we are going to build a more refined prototype of AIDA. One idea is that students from, for example, the master’s programme in computer technology, could add a speech interface, so that people can really talk to the robot.”
Julia Kraft has completed her part of the robot work and is now writing up her degree project.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how our prototype can be developed,” she says.
So the robot that will help visitors to the Östergötland Museum – what personality will you give it?
“We haven’t decided yet: experiments are continuing”, says Johan Blomkvist.
Translated by George Farrants