3D FabricationConcept Design UX Research Physical Computing3 months2021

Companion Robot supporting lonely young adults who want to experience pet-like companionship to relief  loneliness in a remote working environment by having personalisable features and full quadruped mobility.

I collaborated with 4 Engineers and led the discovery phase and the design sprint of this project.

Take a look at our lofi demostration︎︎︎

How Can Young Adults Cope With Loneliness While Staying Home?

Loneliness has long been an issue in American society. The advent of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns only exacerbated this issue, as traditional avenues for in-person socialization became restricted or entirely off-limits. This shift has particularly impacted college students and young adults, who are now reporting higher levels of loneliness than ever before, highlighting the profound effect of these social limitations on their well-being.

What do we know about the users?

What Are The Insights We Learned From Research?

Students can forget to remain substainable communication with families and friends.
Students are surprised by how often they forget to communicate with families and friends while busy in school. Many students recognize the benefit of leaving time to talk to close families or friends or make new friends in school as the most effective way of coping with loneliness. Still, they tend to fall into a work-rest cycle and worsen the sense of loneliness.

Physical interaction is acknowledged as a necessity in coping with loneliness. Body language can depend on an action, and physical interactions between friends are the best way to express oneself without words. Over half 0f the interviewees acknowledged that hugging friends are one of the most effective ways to cope with the loneliness of physical interactions.

Students define loneliness as a negativity.
Loneliness tends to appear as a negative attitude and socially deficient. Many of us don't know how to spend our alone time in a positive and meaningful way.

What Do We Know About Competitors On The Market?

We analyzed the three products providing animal or animal-like companionship to differentiate our robot from the existing products on the market and also capture critical opportunities that the competitors do not offer to our audiences.

What Are Our Goals?

  1. Reconnect with Old Companionship: Social connections are unreplacable. Several companies released AI companion pet robots featuring animal-like actions but are unable to achieve creating strong companionships or bonds. Instead of entirely focusing on shaping a character. We decided to feature our companion robots as an assistant helping users reach out for existing companionships while feeling lonely.
  2. “Stay by My Side" Companion Car: Most interviewees believe physical interaction is an effective way to cope with loneliness — whether a hug or simply a person, pet, or animal sitting by the side. 2/3 of our user research participants said they have been visiting therapy dogs on campus and feel released. 3/4 of our interviewees who had pets at home expressed that the moments they enjoyed the most with their pets were when they were interacting or simply sitting by the side while owners were doing their work.
  3. Self-care Reminder: While being in loneliness due to either isolation or burnout, many young adults did not know the proper way to cope with it or notice the problem, even though they constantly struggled with it. Other than reaching out for help, it is also crucial for individuals to find specific causes of loneliness and empower themselves to avoid turning loneliness into a negative sign.

How We Generate Ideas

We used the Crazy 8 activity to gather ideas.

Visualizing the Storytelling

We created storyboards in the two most common scenarios of young adults feeling lonely. Through this process, we narrowed our solution's scope to provide stay-by-side companion care and enhance existing companionship, as those are significant pain points in our user insights.

4 Concept Designs of Trustable Imagery

Based on our user stories and key user insights, I designed four concepts focusing on different interpretations of "companion care." We picked the fourth concept because it shapes trustable service animal imagery and allows us to build on and leave room to address minor user insights.

Technology &  Physical Prototype

To verify our user stories and the robot's usability, we created a lo-fi prototype based on the concept sketch and conducted a series of tests. We focused on a personalized homepage to let users discover and apply different opportunities. We asked our participants to imagine themselves as young adults feeling lonely at night and wanting to have some interactions to cope with loneliness.

What is Our Visual Strategy?

To establish trust and a sense of reliability within our service, we opted for a single font and an emphasis on navy blue with accent colors against a white backdrop. We wanted to ensure our service's UI was consistent across the app and desktop site.

3D Printing & Physical Computing

After finalizing the features based on our feedback, we started 3D printing the robot's components based on an open-resourced CAD model and implementing the basic features.

Final Thoughts

The five of us worked on this project on the cusp of busy coursework, and three teammates graduating in the pandemic's second year. We worked with the hope that this robot could provide something meaningful to busy college students struggling with loneliness, which made this project very meaningful for us. Throughout the process, what challenged me the most was the implementation process. Under the condition of having only one engineer on the team, we managed to learn Robotics and present our minimum viable product on Demo Day. In the later implementation progress, I often know the technical constraints that affect my design. If I can come up with something that saves engineering time, we can implement it faster and spend more time polishing the most important aspects of the design. Surprisingly, the constraints led me to find a new design approach that was more effective and straightforward than I had initially.

In the future, I would like to explore ways to optimize my designs to support the prototyping and testing process from a design engineer's perspective.