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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How teens can build remote social connection through an emotionally supportive robot swarm Reid, Elizabeth


Social connection plays an important role in early adolescent development, yet teenagers are increasingly turning to remote communication technologies like social media in order to fulfill their social needs. Unfortunately, these technologies are often missing several important elements of in-person interaction, such as non-verbal emotional cues and affective social touch. To address these shortcomings, this thesis explores the interaction design for ESSbots, one implementation of a proposed new kind of social medium that focuses on the shareable, expressive behaviours of an "emotionally supportive swarm” of small mobile robots. We grounded our initial design framework in the cognitive science theories of participatory sensemaking, embodied, embedded, enactive cognition, and actor network theory, and explored how the swarm robot properties of tangible embodiment, multiplicity and coordination, and animacy, agency, identification, and roleplay support remote group communication and connection through a series of iterative participatory design workshops. Based on participant feedback, we developed an interaction prototype and interface to support accessible swarm robot behaviour authoring and remote sharing between friends via atomic behaviours, i.e., basic actions that can be combined and modified to create complex, expressive behaviours with one or several robots. Our workshop findings revealed that teenagers wanted to use the swarm to communicate in creative and playful ways, share expressive emotions, and reflect their own personalities through the robots as proxies. They viewed the embodied aspect of ESSbots as a unique and important element of remote communication, and felt that mediated touch in particular would help them feel closer to their friends. We also found that our design was generalizable to both a new and returning group of participants. It was consistently easy to use and engaging, although participants felt the clarity of remote communication works best with friend groups who already know each other well. Finally, we highlight important design recommendations for ESSbots. Most notably, participants wanted a high level of autonomy over their own robots, including mechanisms to support consent when others use the swarm, as well as a mix of possible control methods including visual scripting, pre-made buttons, and direct manipulation to support expressive affect sharing and playful interaction.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International