Imagining robots: interdisciplinary digital visual ethnography and emerging technologies

Authors: Shanti Sumartojo*, Monash University, Leimin Tian, Monash University, Pamela Carreno-Medrano, Monash University, Robert Lundgren, Monash University, Aimee Allen, Monash University, Dana Kulić, Monash University, Michael Mintrom, Monash University
Topics: Urban Geography, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: robots, emerging technologies, ethnographic methods, public space, interdisciplinarity
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 47
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper discusses a digital visual ethnographic approach to understanding emerging robotic technologies. It shows how the research team used workshops to explore the terms in which people imagine robots in public space, as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration between human geography, robotics and software engineering and policy studies. The workshops were developed in response to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, moving the research site out of public spaces on campus, and into paired simulation and programming software. We begin by framing our account with three interlinked concepts drawn from the literature on ethnography: the notion of the ‘ethnographic place’ (Pink 2008); processual forms of knowing through making (Ingold 2013); and the possibilities opened by ‘technologies of the imagination’ (Sneath et al 2009). After drawing these together, we then describe a set of iterative research workshops in a pilot project aimed at developing an interdisciplinary methodology to investigate the ways in which robots in public space might configure atmospherically, and how to best design them for public space applications. We conclude by reflecting on the value of our approach for other projects aimed at investigating technology and public space using ethnographic methodologies.

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