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Mutual Rescue


Iliya Roginsky

Design and Technology track

Mentor — 

Eyal Fried

Robotic vacuum cleaner as mental therapy assistant

I imagine the following case: Haim lies down on the sofa. He’s spent two weeks straight at home. He cannot find the strength to go to work or just for a walk. Together with his therapist, he has set up a weekly schedule: days when he walks on the beach, goes shopping and visits a close friend. But he’s not up to it. He can’t stop thinking about what broke his heart, about what he can do differently, about why he deserves it. An endless sequence of questions. He can’t budge. 

Suddenly, through his intrusive thoughts, he hears his robotic vacuum cleaner gets stuck in the table. The robot constantly tries to get out of the corner he’s in. You can hear it banging at the table legs, getting into trouble. It can’t find its way out and back to the charging base. Haim looks at it for a moment, gets up to rescue it from the corner, and recharges it. He then says to himself, now that I’m already up…

I’m designing the behavior of a therapeutic robot based on an existing home product: no fur to caress, no shining lights, no complex texts. The robot is designed to treat people in clinical depression who are actively engaged in therapy. The treatment is based on an existing practice borrowed from the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, and the use of the behavioral activation technique. 

As a guiding principle in planning the robot, I seek to create everyday situations, in which the robot, designed for cleaning, also produces moments when it needs the owner, calling out for physical help. The robot that is stuck and cannot function is dependent on the human, whose likewise stuck and cannot function. Every now and then, the robot is liable to fail or break down on purpose, in order to attract the owner’s attention and be helped. In doing so, the robot breaks the vicious circle in which the patient is trapped, and performs “behavioral activation” in order to restore him to minimal functioning, and to a virtuous circle.

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