What can be considered to enhance design and development?
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Robots are no longer relegated to factories, but are found in everyday places like hospitals, homes, and even supermarkets where people of different ages, genders, nationalities, and abilities, are expected to engage with robots.
In order to successfully integrate robots, we need to address the question of inclusion and exclusion that comes with robotization. We have found that design choices inherently include and exclude particular users, settings, or groups, and that many robot developers are not always aware who they include or exclude with their robot designs.
Human Proximity Model
Though many robot developers try to accommodate their design to consider end-user diversity and different limitations, some design decisions based on normative assumptions lead to potential exclusion of users.
What is Normative Thinking?
A person may be excluded from the use of exoskeleton robots if they have the wrong body size, miss the benefits robotics technologies bring if they cannot press the right buttons or be excluded from particular social contexts that change with the introduction of robots. Entire sections of society may be excluded if a robot requires a wireless internet connection to function, or if the user must be literate in a particular language to operate the robot.
Here we illustrate how normative thinking tends to lead to particular issues of exclusion in robotics and point to opportunities for adopting more inclusive robot development practices by presenting five examples of unintended exclusion: Body Features, Perception Skills, Physical Environments, Affordability and Gender.
Though body features are not necessarily tied to the age or gender of a person, these aspects may influence the human body and should be considered as early as possible in the design phases. The same goes for other body issues such as disabilities. Design decisions based on normative assumptions lead to potential exclusion (and disfavor) of users with non-standard bodies.
Different types of perception skills may result in people being excluded from the potential benefits of a given robot. This includes:
- Difficulties with understanding instructions and interacting with the robot.
- Age and technological literacy.
- Inability to read and/or understand an instructions manual.
- Expectations, visions and ideas about robots.
Due to the variety and complexity of human environments as well as technology constraints, it is impossible to build a generalized robot that fits into all existing human physical environments.
A priority is sometimes given to robot requirements and not to human needs, with significant adaptations required to be made on the human side.
Given the novelty and complexity of robotic technologies, robots are often too expensive for many companies as well as individual and institutional end-users to implement in everyday settings on a large scale.
The robotics community largely consists of males. This results in gender normativity that affects robot makers’ thinking about both robotic systems as well as end-users.
Female and gender-diverse perspectives often remain either distorted or excluded from robotics.
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- Inclusion/Exclusion: A multi-dimensional concept that here points to the fact that whenever design decisions are made, they involve the process of full or partial inclusion/exclusion of individuals or groups of persons from the given dimension of the reality question.
- Inclusive Design: A design approach that emphasizes the design that understand user diversity, and work on own normativities to make informed design decisions that include as many of the people who could benefit from the designed product as possible
- Normative Thinkings: A type of thinking where a group of persons develops specific assumptions and conceptions of reality ("norms") and believe that all other individuals or groups naturally should accept these.
- Does your own age and/or experiences with technology play any role in your design thinking? Why?
- Is it important to get to know the actual physical environment where the robot is to be implemented? Why?
- On what premises do you assume your robot will fit the needs of its end-users?
- Have you ever designed technology where something about the real-life environment surprised you when it was implemented?
Concluding Remarks on Inclusive Design
Part of the challenge of inclusive design is a lack of sufficiently developed interdisciplinary collaborations. This is something REELER believes is possible to obtain by, among other efforts, offering robot developers tools such as BuildBot.
Robot makers could address this challenge by involving end-users in the design phase at the very beginning and throughout robot development and implementation, and visiting the actual sites where robots will be used.
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