Will I get weepy when the Roomba croaks?

A Georgia Tech study finds that some people form emotional attachments to their Roomba vacuuming robots--and overlook flaws as a result.

A Georgia Tech researcher has concluded that you're more likely to forgive your cleaning robot's shortcomings once you bond with it, according to The Associated Press.

Eww.

iRobot's newish Roomba 530 iRobot

OK, I'll admit I enjoy watching our iRobot Scooba (purchased it) and Roomba (trying it out after my colleague Michael Kanellos reviewed it). The admonition often comes to my mind that it's only a time saver if you don't watch it while it works.

But I don't want to buy the Roomba little outfits. Or follow the lead of the majority of 30 committed Roomba users that the Georgia Tech researchers questioned: 21 had given it a name and 16 had categorized it as male.

But I guess people form emotional attachments to their mechanized possessions. Witness the iPod dress-up outfits and the not uncommon practice of naming cars. It wouldn't surprise me if I heard that theologians have debated whether such objects have souls.

I confess that I am guilty of anthropomorphizing the Roomba, as when I inwardly urge the Roomba not to get stuck in the corner again. So perhaps I do give autonomous cleaning robots higher status in the pecking order than some subservient creature such as a cordless drill.

The Georgia Tech study's implication is that customers who connect emotionally to a device will give more leeway when it comes to a device's actual utility.

"They're more willing to work with a robot that does have issues because they really, really like it," said Beki Grinter, the associate professor at Georgia Tech's College of Computing who oversaw the study, according to the AP. "If we can design things that are somewhat emotionally engaging, it doesn't have to be as reliable."

I suspect there's a double-edged sword here, though. What happens when the bloom comes off the rose? Are we more likely to also consider that some Roomba deliberately gnaws on the rug tassels just to spite us? Will its failings assume heightened importance, too?

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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