Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Physical Actuation as an Alternative Approach to the Intelligibility of Smart Speakers

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis


  • Mirzel Avdic
Smart internet-connected appliances like smart doorbells, blinds, thermostats and vacuum cleaners are increasingly making their entrance into homes, often interconnected with smart speakers like Amazon's Echo. This makes up an ecology of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, with the smart speaker in a central role, as a hub through which people can seamlessly interact with their appliances using natural language. This is transforming homes into smart homes, with these smart technologies becoming increasingly integrated into households' daily routines. However, smart speakers' potential to act as hubs through which people can access and interact with the home is limited by the lack of clarity about how the technology works, in particular the lack of transparency about some of its underlying behaviour, as suggested by prior work. This is in line with some critiques of context-aware systems in which a lack of intelligibility—the system's ability to communicate its behaviour to users by informing the user about what it has inferred, how it has done so, and what it is doing with that information—has been identified. Intelligibility in the context of smart speakers and their role in an IoT ecosystem has not received much attention. Furthermore, most research on intelligibility has investigated textual and visual approaches in which additional displays (such as smartphones) or projections are required. Little is known about alternative approaches to intelligibility that provide useful information about smart speakers' underlying activities.

This thesis presents an exploration, investigation, and a demonstration of a feasible alternative intelligibility approach for smart speakers through three major contributions. First, I contribute smart speaker ideations and prototypes that explore intelligibility through physical actuation, which culminated in QUBI, a physically actuated smart speaker prototype. Secondly, I contribute findings from two empirical studies: the first study provides insights into which intelligibility issues are linked to smart speakers, and the second study provides an understanding of people's reactions to QUBI's vocabulary of physical motions and the potential of physical motion as a means to make smart speakers intelligible. Finally, I contribute a theoretical analysis of two rather different research projects, including this project, which led to the development of the notion of traces: a mechanism that can conceptually aid designers and researchers in bringing forth connections at play in people's use of technology regarding past activities, connected objects, and people and their joint activities. The analysis of my first empirical study through the lens of traces has raised a number of questions that can support designers and researchers in designing smart speakers that act as mediators to support users' joint activities in smart homes.

In summary, this work lays the foundation for physical intelligibility—intelligibility provided through an artifact’s physical motion—as an alternative approach to intelligibility.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationAarhus
PublisherAarhus Universitet
Number of pages204
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Termination date: 06-05-2021

See relations at Aarhus University Citationformats

Download statistics

No data available

ID: 210188611