‘But obviously not for me’: robots, laboratories and the defiant identity of elder test users


Address for correspondence: Louis Neven, Department of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS), University of Twente, Capitool 15, 7500 AE Enschede, PO Box 217, The Netherlands
e-mail: l.b.m.neven@utwente.nl


This article focuses on participants and researchers who actively tested a prototype – a robot intended to enhance the health of elders. Specifically, this article analyses interactions between robots, elder test users, and robot designers to examine how images of elder users, definitions of health, and ideas about ageing shape the development of technology. The designers imagined the prospective user as a person who would both need and want a health robot. In contrast, test users drew upon stereotypes of old people and imagined the prospective user as a lonely person in need of care and company. To resist this stereotype, they presented themselves as cognitively and physically healthy, independent, and helpful. This image of the helpful test user allowed participants to simultaneously enjoy the robot and position themselves as not old or in need of care. The participants’ views, however, did not influence the designers’ overall view of elder users, and were not incorporated into their design practices. Recognising and taking into account test users’ views on elder technology users – specifically their understanding and rejection of negative stereotypes of old people – could help prevent resistance to (and thus the non-use of) health technologies by elders.