interaction design / DESIGN RESEARCH
MIT MEDIA LAB, jan 2017-present
TEAM: anastasia ostrowski

Social Connectivity & Embodied Agents.

A deep dive in how embodied agents
can facilitate social connection between
people across generations



Can embodied agents act as facilitators of social awareness and connection between family members within the home environment?

With the emergence of communication technologies—social media, smart phones, video conferencing—the way people interact has transformed. While there are more mediums for connection, people feel more disconnected. These findings have particular relevance in the context of intergenerational connections between elderly and their families. While research shows that both have a strong desire to stay connected, they often face hurdles to communication including geographic distances, lack of contextual awareness, and time constraints.

A growing body of research has explored these challenges through technologies to enable social awareness and communication between remote families. Social awareness systems are designed to enhance people’s sense of social connectedness by communicating peripheral awareness of information—such as location, activities, status—about friends and family. Embodied social agents present a compelling interface for enabling social awareness, but have seen limited exploration in this context.

The goal of this work is to (1) identify and map design goals for social awareness technologies between different generations within families (2) evaluate the capacity for embodied social agents to act as facilitators of social awareness, and (3) study if and how agents should be proactive in this goal within the domestic environment. This work will involve a series of design research workshops, a long-term study with families, as well as a lab-based study on how families develop a social language for communication in the physical environment.

Project Lead (Master's Thesis)

  • overall concept development and execution 
  • design research in the field with different generations to understand needs of families through participatory design methodologies and user research work
  • development of prototype embodied agent interactions for testing in longer-term context
  • capture and analysis of both qualitative (annotated behaviors, transcripts, artifacts etc.) and quantitative (affect data, language, prosody, story retell)


human-robot interaction design | user-interface design | field work | participatory design | human subject studies | data analysis