The New Robot Domesticity

[Image: Optically tagged "robot-friendly bed sheets" from With Robots by Diego Trujillo-Pisanty].

Diego Trujillo-Pisanty, currently a student in the Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art in London, has looked ahead at how future homes might be redesigned to accommodate domestic robots.

Rather than build entire new forms of architecture, however, Diego suggests that we'll first begin quite simply: retrofitting our interior environments, in often deceptively small ways, for optical navigation by autonomous mobile home systems. This will primarily take the form of peripheral additions to everyday objects, as well as a new range of optical tags that will allow certain tasks—folding blankets, for instance, or setting the dinner table—to be accomplished much easier by machines.

These tags will define both physical limits and the spatial operations appropriate within them, coding the everyday home environment for the rise of machine intelligence.

[Image: From With Robots by Diego Trujillo-Pisanty].

Homeowners will even help their robots learn through computational games—like Fröbel blocks for machines.

"Every living space is different," the project description explains, "not only in the architectural layout, but also in the tasks that the tenants require robots to do. For this reason, robots ship only partially programmed so that through a learning algorithm they might adapt to the home they operate in. To accelerate the learning process, special learning tools have been designed to help the robot integrate to a 3D environment." The photograph seen below "shows a living room after a robot self-training session. We can see it has now mastered the physics of equilibrium. It is also evident that it has mistaken one of the house's dinner plates which it has broken with robotic precision to complete its piece."

[Image: From With Robots by Diego Trujillo-Pisanty].

"Robot-friendly" handles will also be added to coffee mugs, the project suggests—which then ripples outward, effecting other spatial dimensions of the domestic environment, including where those mugs are stored. Thus, we read, "the cupboards in which these cups rest have also been altered in order to accommodate the robot. Not only are there tags marking the position of objects, but the doors have also been removed as they were not fit for A.I."

[Image: From With Robots by Diego Trujillo-Pisanty].

Cooking itself will also be altered; the next image seen here "shows how meat has been precisely cut into cubes without leaving any cut marks on the chopping board. The board itself has notches to facilitate robot interaction. In the background the meat package can be seen; it too has been labelled to suggest that the robots operate beyond a single house."

[Image: From With Robots by Diego Trujillo-Pisanty].

In a recent, highly recommended TED Talk, games designer Kevin Slavin discusses how the design of the physical world is being increasingly optimized for algorithms—and one of his central examples is the Roomba self-guided home vacuum cleaner.

[Image: A Roomba reveals its algorithms in this photo by Signal Theorist, via IEEE Spectrum].

The Roomba, in this context, becomes emblematic of the rise of a new kind of device, one with direct spatial and optical effects on the architecture inside of which it functions.

In fact, it is not difficult to imagine, as both Diego Trujillo-Pisanty's and Kevin Slavin's work suggest, a world in which everyday furniture has been subtly redesigned in order to fit the Roomba's spiraling subroutines—and not the other way around—or even whole rooms peppered with strange, ankle-high optical tags on certain walls, doors, or objects, used to steer the Roomba this way or that at specific points in its room-cleaning operations.

Like a tomb from Egypt's Valley of the Kings, our houses will be covered in hieroglyphs—machine-hieroglyphs, not legible as much as they are optically recognizable.

Now scale this up to the size of, say, Wall-E, and you get With Robots: a spatial environment slightly, almost invisibly, somehow off, idealized not for human beings at all, but for the spatial needs of intelligent objects.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome article, domestic robotics is a fascinating topic. I don't know if it's just my browser but I can't see the robot cooking picture, might be worth checking it's linked.

Great post anyway.

August 01, 2011 7:35 PM  
Anonymous msarge said...

Can I please just have a robot to clean my house for me already?

August 01, 2011 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Geoffrey Barrows said...

This is a fascinating article! I can imagine these optical tags or glyphs eventually taking on an aesthetic purpose rather than just functional. Actually I think that robots as architectural features could be something we see develop in the next few decades.

August 02, 2011 9:45 AM  
Anonymous abhominal said...

Interesting post, I should have thought by the time machines are dextrous enough to manage chores they would be able to recognize items such as cups and plates.

Still, would be cool to have geometric hieroglyphs on my bedspread.

August 02, 2011 10:51 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Thanks for the heads up about the meat/cooking image, which I've now added. I somehow overlooked that...

August 02, 2011 4:28 PM  
Anonymous splotch said...

Ipso facto robotically integrated housing estates and high-rises will create a new class system, robotically integrated cities will create a new world order, and before you know it Keanu Reeves will be getting a bath in his own amiotic fluid until he swallows that red pill.

Twitter is stage one in the battle to reduce human thought to binary zero's and one's...you have been 01110111 01100001 01110010 01101110 01100101 01100100.

August 02, 2011 6:32 PM  
Blogger JWB said...

Where do RFIDs fit into this idea? Would it not make sense for the robot creators to also have 'robot friendly' merchandise for sale that could subsidize the cost of the robots? I could see RFIDs sown into the bed-sheet corners that give location and other information if programmed to do so.
As a future architect, this is an interesting idea to begin to think how humans and machines continue to interact with each other in the built environment. Good post. - JW

August 02, 2011 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diego seems like a cool genius.:)

August 16, 2011 10:12 AM  

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