I(xD), Robot: CCA Students Design Robots for Sponsored Studio with Bosch

Students at work during the Bosch-sponsored IxD studio course Time Studio 2: Behavior Craft. [Photo: Andrew Haskin]

In fall 2012, Bosch RTC, a multinational engineering and electronics company, sponsored the final project in CCA’s undergraduate Interaction Design Program's Time Studio 2: Behavior Craft course.

The assignment: design a domestic robot.

Students Bring Interaction Experience to Life

Specifically, students were asked to create an interaction experience for a robot who can clean, organize, or secure the home. The frilly aproned “Rosie the Robot” from the The Jetsons may come to mind, but the robots conceived by CCA students were so much more.

Split into four teams, the students met weekly with mentors from the interaction design community, including representatives from Frog Design, Google, Snibbe Interactive, and Adobe.

To design the experience the students had to first identify what value a domestic robot would provide to an owner, and second, how it would be usable. Working over a span of six weeks, they conducted research; brainstormed; created prototypes, pitches, storyboards, and a concept video; and finally presented their ideas to the Bosch Robotics research lab in Palo Alto.

Bosch and CCA: The Perfect Match

According to Dr. Philip Roan from Bosch, the Bosch slogan “Invented for Life” mirrors CCA’s “Make Art That Matters” in many ways. “Both express the desire to deliver meaningful impact to lives, with a focus on long-term impact. All of us are striving against the current disposable culture, and we value the creativity necessary to do so.

“We chose to sponsor a project at CCA for three reasons,” continues Roan. “First, we have a desire to involve designers and users early in our innovation and development process. This project provided an opportunity for our engineers to work with student designers and learn along with them.

“Second, the reputation and proximity of CCA to our research center facilitated a hands-on-role with the students. Bosch is a global company that believes in a global footprint with local knowledge, and it utilizes its North American research center here in the Bay Area to enable collaboration with the excellent schools in the area.

“Third, the enthusiasm of Interaction Design chair Kristian Simsarian for this idea of robots in the home encouraged the collaborative spirit shared between Bosch and CCA.”

Simsarian echoes, “Working with a world-class international sponsor like Bosch exposes questions that are important in the world today. These are critical challenges that we are working on.”

The Magic of Robotics

For student Casey Kawahara (Interaction Design 2014), robotics presents endless opportunities. “I’ve always been fascinated with robots because I don’t completely understand how they work,” admits Kawahara. “They are so complex that what they do seems like magic. What is especially exciting to me is that much of our current technology is only limited by the imaginations of the people who are creating it. With robotics, it’s no longer a question of ‘What can it do?’ but rather ‘What should it do?’ That is where things get interesting.”

Human-Centered Design

“One of the key insights of this studio is the importance of the role of human-centered design,” Kawahara continues. “Technology is developing at a level where things like robotics walk a fine line between magical and just scary. As designers we have an amazing opportunity to embrace the technology and create objects and interactions that will improve people’s lives.”

Fellow student Andrew Haskin (MFA Design 2013) believes the fact that the students were designers rather than robotics engineers worked to their advantage. “We had to look beyond the technical details and play to our strong suits of design thinking and human interaction.”

Automation: Too Much or Not Enough?

One of the challenges faced by students was robotic automation. “Many times we design interactions that take place on, or are directly related to, screens,” says Kawahara.

“With the Bosch project," continues Kawahara, "we had to look at how humans might interact with a more autonomous entity. It was challenging to determine how much automation was too much or too little. Not enough automation could make the robot seem like a burden. Too much automation could make the person feel like they had no control of their situation. With improving technology and ubiquitous computing, I think this is going to be a common theme in many products in our near future.”

Presenting at Bosch Robotics

“Presenting at the Bosch Robotics research lab was intimidating,” says Kawahara. “We are design students and they are people with PhDs in robotics. I don’t think any of us knew how they were going to receive our ideas, but, ultimately, it was very successful. We approached the project from a new perspective and I think they appreciated a fresh point of view.”

Haskin remarks, “Presenting to Bosch was exciting because we got to meet a team of brilliant engineers who could actually make our crazy design ideas a reality. The conversation and the potential of solving real-world problems with tomorrow’s technology -- robots no less -- was awesome.”

Results Useful to Innovation Process

Roan was impressed. “We were particularly impressed with the students’ ability to take an open, broad topic and deliver concrete ideas in such a short period of time. If we had had more time, it would have been great to develop physical prototypes, but the videos and animations are still very useful for our innovation process. The students’ posters are proudly displayed in our lab.”

Keep your eyes peeled. It might not be long before a CCA-designed “Rosie the Robot” becomes an integral part of households worldwide.

Related Links

Visit the Time Studio 2: Behavior Craft website to read creative briefs for each project, meet the team members and their coaches, and watch their final presentations at the Bosch Robotics research lab.