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How Do Robots Learn What Humans Want?

Adam Goss ’04 Ensures Robots Solve Pressing Problems

Mary K. Pratt

We’ve all heard of robots helping humans with tasks. But who helps the robots learn what humans want? As a principal user experience designer at iRobot, Bentley graduate Adam Goss studies consumer needs and helps translate them into robot vacuums, mops and pool cleaners. That brings him into homes for the work he loves: seeing how people interact with products. Goss ’04 is married to Elizabeth (Beaton) ’04; they live in Lincoln, Mass., with son Redmond, daughter Pearl and five Roombas.

Getting to know you
Goss: I care about everything the user experiences, from initial expectations to how they use the products to what they tell others. All of this influences how we design the physical and digital interactions with the robots.

Global homework
We go into people’s homes to see how our products integrate into their lives and react to their environments. Doing research in China has been the most eye-opening for me. I observed a lot of interesting consumer technology, a high commitment to cleaning and complex societal influences on cleaning. There is so much to learn about each region’s home types, furnishing style, pride in ownership, technology usage and environmental conditions.

Asking the right questions
It’s important to ask open questions that can lead in different directions. For example, to find out when someone likes to use a cleaning robot, I’ll ask, “Would you rather come home to a clean house or wake up to a clean house?” The answer gives us a better picture of how the robots can accommodate their needs. It opens up the conversation.

See how Ericsson partnered with Bentley’s User Experience Center to improve its multi-screen viewing experience.

Translating the experience
: I often create visual representations of what the user is thinking and doing at various points in their experience with the robots, in order to collaborate with others who weren’t there. These might be diagrams of the user’s decision-making flow or floor plans representing the way they want their home cleaned. I’ll also show the experience happening by providing video; we take a lot of videos.

Just like family
There’s a strong preference for seeing robots as a member of the family rather than as an appliance. Sometimes people refer to “the robot,” but much more frequently I hear pet names like Fido and Sparky or names of classic TV robots and butlers.

Clean entertainment 
I have five Roombas and three Braavas. I like to experience all the different models we have, and I take a lot of prototypes home. My fleet is function-focused with names like Diningroomba and Livingroomba, making it easy to know which one I’m controlling when away from home. My son is 2 years old; he presses the button and likes to watch them go.

Learn more about Bentley’s User Experience Center.