Connecting Through Housework

A robot vacuum cleaner is set to begin vacuuming but only when the counterpart device, carried by the absent family member, moves.

David spends blocks of between two or three months of the year separated from his wife Irene and their teenage children Rikard and Rebecca. David feels he has two homes; one in the UK, where he works (his ‘work-home’) and one in Sweden, (his ‘home-home’).

For David in Sheffield and for Irene, Rikard and Rebecca in Sweden, we saw how the family made heavy use of technologies, particularly video Skype, to stay in regular daily contact. However Rikard and Rebecca told us how they have less of a sense of his patterns of activity when their father is away.

We became interested in how the patterns of daily life continue in these two spaces and how this changes when they are together.

Mischievously, we wondered how we might allow David to contribute to the daily chores in Sweden whilst away. We began to develop sketches based on an adapted Roomba, the commercially available robot vacuum cleaner. We decided we wanted to make apparent David’s daily travel routines through the behaviour of the vacuum, arguably a kind of digital possession.

The third of our Ritual Machine’s transforms David’s movements when in the UK into the movements of the robot vacuum cleaner in Sweden. When David walks at a leisurely pace, the robot moves silently around the house. When David quickens his pace by beginning his daily commute on the train, the robot begins to clean the house. When he returns to his ‘work-home’ the vacuum seeks out its recharging station.

In this way it reveals the pattern of David’s activities and potentially contributes to the housework. Through the activities of the robot based on David’s movements; Irene, Rikard and Rebecca can begin to read some of his routines while he is away.

Technically, this Ritual Machine works by an adapted Android phone that runs custom software measuring David’s speed by GPS and communicating this across the Internet to the Roomba. The machine has been adapted with a bespoke case and custom electronics that connects it to WiFi and determines the Roomba’s behaviour.

The vaccum also subtly reveals David’s location through colour displayed on the lid of the vacuum and matched by the display on his own device. With work-home displaying white, his distance and bearing from there is used to calculate a colour which, whilst consistent for specific places does not disclose the actual destination.

David can cause the vacuum to rotate on the spot by shaking his device. Irene, Rikard and Rebecca can ‘pause’ the vacuum by knocking on the lid. This action causes David’s device to vibrate and make a knocking sound and halts the vacuum until it is ‘knocked’ for a second time.

For this machine we produced a detailed instruction manual as it was very important to communicate to the family how the vacuum should avoid water and delicate obstacles and generally be used. However, we were deliberately ambiguous with describing how David and the vacuum’s behaviour was linked, as we wanted them to explore this for themselves.

 Family 3

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