A group of us (myself, Anila, Charlotte) hacked a Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot (the robot) and took it to lewisham shopping centre. We wanted to get some insight of the nature of algorithmic pathfinding and peoples reaction to an autonomous entity. I attached a rectangle of black metal to the top of the robot and mounted a consumer grade video camera to it. The effect was very crude with all elements held together with black gaffer tape. We asummed that any close inspection would dispel any idea that this was a ‘real’ security device.
I expected that security would ask us to leave as soon as they caught site of the device. To avoid this I selected a location away from the central hub of the shopping center and set it going. The pace of the robot seemed very slow and methodical within the large space of the shopping centre.
The robot instantly grabbed peoples attention drawing a small crowd of onlookers. We attempted to blend into the background, observing peoples reaction, distancing ourselves from its operation. We hear a person say “who’s controlling it?” and lots of people looked around for evidence of a remote control. A small child started to follow the device his mother initially looked concerned but eventually let the child play. As people passed they mostly looked amused, though one mother was annoyed as the robot got in the way of her pram.
After criss-crossing the open space for around 4 minutes at a time the robot would stop. This may have been due to its algorithm ‘giving up’ as it was receiving no ‘bump’ sensor input so the space may have been deemed uncomputable. Each time the robot stopped I walked over to it and reset it which gave some members of the public opportunity to make connection between the device and myself.
The robot eventually bumped into a wall where it develop a different navigational aesthetic. It rapidly performed a sequence of bumps and turns as it hugged the line of a wall, making its way to the entrance of a clothes shop. At this point it didn’t look like it was under human control as its movements were more insect like, more threatening even. However, when asked to remove the robot from the shop a man commented that he liked the idea of robotic security devices and that he would like to see more of them as they made him feel safer. He though such robots could provide services, though he never specified what these services might be.
We took the robot to a new location in the shopping centre outside a sports shop and not too far from an information desk. The device quickly discovered walls and methodically made its way accross the open front of a shop. A shop assistant was immediately concerned and called over three other assistants who called a security guard. At which point, I picked up the robot. We were told that we should have asked permission to use the device and that the shop assistant was worried that it “could have been anything” which i took to be a reference to a bomb. The security guard then called over a police woman who asked us to explain what we were doing, at which point her eyes glazed over and she asked us to leave.