Bots – Collaborative AI for the Smart Home

Umeå Institute of DesignSwitzerland


Concept / Student


Kevin Gaunt


According to the EU’s 2015 Ageing report, by 2060 the European Union is projected to move from having four working-age people for every person aged over 65 to about two working-age persons. Politicians are looking to technology to provide answers on how we might better take care of senior people ageing in-place.

Most existing future visions depict a type of general artificial intelligence to serve our wishes before we utter them. Instead, advancements in AI are more likely to come from separate, highly specialised, but functionally narrow agents. This project aims to challenge our understanding of the smart-home and provides a glimpse into a speculative future where interacting with ‘bots’ has become as mundane as our fuseboxes are now. They are programmed to perform a single function only.

Three video scenarios were created that revolve around particular situations within the near future smart home and ask the questions: what could it be like to live with a group of these bots that collaborate and negotiate amongst themselves? How will that impact our relationship with these objects? And how can we regain individual control to add, upgrade or replace the algorithms that get to act inside our homes?

To communicate the vision multiple artefacts and interactions needed to be designed. The system ended up consisting of 18 bots with different functionalities and ‘personalities’, a main control unit that houses the bots in operation, and a set of ’speaker’ units that allow for interaction in every room. To arrive at the appropriate level of narrowness for each of the bots,  6 Slack-bots were programmed and let loose in a smart home channel.

The final result contributed to the public discourse after being exhibited at Umeå Arts Campus – where viewers were asked to imagine new types of bots to live with – and in design publications online.


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