User acceptance of the smart fridge

The Internet of things field has given, for quite a long time, a prime position to the fridge as the sort of stereotypical device one could "augment". The ubiquity of this artifact, as well as its size and position, made it a good candidate to become the target of ubiquitous computing researchers. The general ideas is often to start from an existing object such as the fridge and try to project if into the future by adding displays, sensors as well as RFID technology. Giving "intelligence" to your fridge often corresponds to add new capabilities allowed by such technologies: internet browsing, fridge content scanning, automatic order over the internet to refill the fridge, etc. (picture taken from this BBC article)

Most of the time, the human aspect of such purposes is left out of the picture as if the fridge designers thought that thing would only requires time to be "accepted". This is why I was interested in Matthias Rothensee's paper entitled "User Acceptance of the Intelligent Fridge: Empirical Results from a Simulation" which he presented at the Internet of Things conference in Zürich few months ago. Although that event seemed scarily engineer/business-based, showing only one side of the coin, there were still some people there who realized that the internet of things is not just some über-cool engineer thing.

The authors employed a smart fridge simulation and a quantitative methodology to study the perception and evaluation of the various assistance functions provided by the system. The variable of interest were: the usefulness, the ease of use, the intention of use and the affective attitude. Some of the results:

"Generally, participants were neutral to positive about the smart fridge. They regarded the system as useful, easy to use, and would slightly tend to use it, if already on the market. Participants estimated their likely reactions to a smart fridge, both, before and after interacting with a simulation of it. Results have shown that despite the fact that the intention to use such a system remains stable after interacting with the simulation, usefulness and affective reactions are negatively affected by interacting with it. This reaction can be interpreted as the participants’ disappointment about the apparent dullness of the smart fridge. (...) usefulness remains the most important predictive variable for the acceptance of the smart fridge, as in traditional workplace technology acceptance literature (...) however, we learned that pleasure felt during interaction with the simulation is also a valuable predictor, underlining the importance of emotion in the acceptance of household technology (...) people’s evaluations differed between the groups, confirming the hypothesis that smart fridge functions are differently appreciated. Nutrition and healthy lifestyle feedback are evaluated most positively, whereas the recipe planer flops."

Why do I blog this? interesting elements here concerning possible users' reactions, especially when considering the low number of user studies which consider the human appreciation of intelligent fridges. However, I am dubious about the use of laboratory tests (and hence the corollary statistical tests) to analyze this kind of design issues. The role of context (spatial, social), practices and habits is very important to analyze regarding acceptance and usage of technologies since these different elements generally have direct or indirect influence on how people employ artifacts.