A class project made remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. We designed a companion bot that promotes positive and meaningful rituals.
UX design, research, primary form development. I created the bot 3D model.
Ava Arshadi, Aaron Guhin, Gizelle Hurtado, Andrew Ma and Zeph Swart
TOOLS & METHODS
Exploration sketching with Procreate | Prototyping & modeling with SketchUp & Blender | Materials & rendering with Fusion 360 | Adobe Creative Suite | Collaboration & Diagramming with Google & Miro
When my design program switched to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, we broke up into small teams for a project that combined aspects drawn from two of our classes–Product Design and Interaction Design Studio. My team designed Aboki*, a small portable companion intended for retirees, that emits feedback based on user attention/touch interaction. The interaction helps pull users out of the mundane through play, touch, and environment augmentation in order to promote positive and meaningful rituals.
Contextual Mockup: Aaron created mockups using my 3D model plus Gizelle and Zeph’s face display. Charging nest – Aaron
Many elderly people struggle with loneliness and isolation. Zeph and I created short backstories for two characters (Liz & Jack, respectively) to represent our target audience: Elderly (60+) Retirees in North America.
HOW DOES ABOKI WORK?
Aboki expresses emotion by changing color, vibrating, swiveling, changing ear positions, making noises and eye expressions. Emotions reinforce the bond between user and bot. Emotions are triggered by AI, sensors and programming. The bot arrives with a basic set of emotions, but reveals special emotions and display animations as it forms a unique personality shaped by owner interactions.
Emotion Chart – Zeph
Display animations are ambiguous task prompts which the owner can attempt to satisfy, e.g., an animation of Aboki hopping around might lead an owner to pick up the bot and carry it outside for a walk, which would result in joyful feedback. The experience, while similar to a human-pet relationship, is designed to motivate the user to repeat positive rituals in order to alleviate the effects of isolation.
Our group chose to focus on coping rituals and routines related to isolation. We began with desk research and we also conducted weeklong self-observation diaries on how we were dealing with the stay-at-home order. Many sources pointed to the importance of private rituals and routines that involve sleep schedules, sensory experiences, mindfulness and creative distraction. We also looked at companion animals, therapy robots, chatbots, comfort dolls, mindfulness VR and apps.
We brainstormed around companion animals, sensory toys and emotional AI. One concept I put forward was a wearable kangaroo pouch that supplied comfort through pressure, like a Temple Grandin inspired weighted blanket. Another, was a multi-sensory remotely operated cuckoo clock. I also made exploration sketches for carrying a companion bot “Softi” and a modular “Lap Rabbit” companion.
Softi Companion Bot
Modular Lap Rabbit Companion Bot
Since our intention was to leverage ambiguity, we decided Aboki should resemble a Dumbo Octopus in place of typical household pet species.
After trying out SketchUp and building a wax model, the 3D modeling program Blender proved best suited to the task. Once the team was satisfied with my 3D object, I was able to begin working with ear positions, skin materials and lighting.
VISUAL LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
I created a grid of different screen display shapes for the team. Ava then used my octopus sketch to make a reference guide for Aboki’s range of emotions. Zeph and Gizelle went further as they finalized the illustrations for the branding and screen display.
Display shape exploration
Moods & Emotions – Ava
MODEL EAR POSITIONS & GLOW EFFECT
Changing ear position and translucent skin color indicate emotion, so I used Blender and Fusion 360 to represent those various modes and material effects. We collaborated on a system diagram. Then, after we fully mapped out the interplay of interactions and Aboki responses during heuristic evaluations, Ava created a more complete and final system diagram.
Ears and color showing: Joyful, Loved and Sad
Translucent glow effect
- We were introduced to CAD software for our Product Design class with the expectation that we would be 3D printing, but deliverables were modified to renderings and digital mockups due to the campus closure at the start of the pandemic.
- Without a tangible model, we were unable to conduct user testing as planned, but we tried to ground our design by looking to competitive and secondary research.
- Aboki’s complex animal-like shape and translucent glowing skin proved difficult to bring to life; I started experimenting with a wax form, and eventually tried 3 different modeling programs as we developed the final form.
WORKING TITLE: ABOKI
The name Aboki translates to friend in Hausa. After we completed the project, I discovered that the word might be problematic. We shouldn’t have borrowed the word from another culture in the first place.