A study of how 8 households in Austria adopted Vector for 7 months

A research group in Austria has recently published a study in the 30th IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication titled “Merely a Conventional ‘Diffusion’ Problem?On the Adoption Process of Anki Vector”.

What did they do?

The researchers chose a group of demographically diverse 8 households based in Austria and studied how these households interacted with a free Anki Vector over the course of seven months. The authors were particularly interested to understand which factors, if any, would lead to the adoption of a commercially available desk robot after the initial awe and excitement over the product withered away.

What did they find?

  • The authors plotted the Likert score for the following dimensions: intelligence, use-fulness, ease of use, entertainment, attachment, impact, overall impression. For all households, the scores went down over the 7 month period. In the beginning, all participants had low to moderate levels of fear from Vector and believed that the robot had moderate to high level of autonomy. At the end of the period, nobody had any fear of Vector, and Vector was perceived to have low levels of autonomy.

  • No correlation was found between the composition of the household and the usage of Vector. As an example, two families with children were still using Vector after six months, while another household with a similar composition did not. 

  • Only 2 households kept using Vector after 6 months. The reasons given to discontinue using Vector ranged from: lack of interesting functions and waste of money for the electricity provided, disturbances at night, and moving Vector to a less used room because of more important requirements.

  • The most use of Vector came in the first two weeks when participants were very enthusiastic about it. A negative impression of Vector’s abilities to understand and act on word commands surely contributed to the loss of interest amongst participants.

  • The authors concluded that it seemed that participants found that the social utility in terms of Vector being a communication mediator and a social status symbol (e.g. featuring it in WhatsApp conversations with family and friends) was greater than its hedonic utility (fun and entertainment). 

What do we think about this?

The paper makes an important contribution in understanding what worked and what did not work for Anki Vector in a social setting. While many companies in the domestic home robot sector have failed, there are also others in business and trying to identify a killer app. It is clear the robots will play some role (dominant or not) in our future lives, and it is important to understand how different households accommodate the presence of a robot in their daily lives.