Sr. Manager, Creative / Lead UX Designer
For a year and a half, I led Anki's User Experience/Human-Robot Interaction work. We designed and refined the Vector product, continued feature work on Cozmo, and planned for future unreleased products.
I managed 15 creative staff members across multiple tiers: 3 User Experience Designers, 1 Technical Product Designer, 3 Sound Designers, and 8 Animators. At the same time, I directed Anki's User Experience work on Vector and Cozmo.
During this period, we developed and delivered Vector on an extraordinarily aggressive schedule, refined Vector's functions and performance, achieved unprecedented growth in the Cozmo product, and crafted strong foundations for future developments in the fields of Home Robotics and Human Robot Interactions.
Anki, a home robotics company, was dedicated to providing real, useful, and compelling experiences with in-home robots. Our products used personality and character to interact with people in completely new and groundbreaking ways.
Key to this effort was creating interactions that felt emotionally resonant, that incorporated not just commands and responses, but emotional communication - robots that feel a little more human.
Due to the many challenges and pitfalls of producing hardware and software at the required scale, and given contemporary market conditions, Anki closed its doors in May 2019.
Challenge: Design interactions for a new generation of personable, friendly home robots
A key difference between Vector and Cozmo (Anki's earlier educational toy robot for kids) was that Vector was designed to hear and respond to voices.
Four directional microphones on Vector's head allowed him to discern human speech. With the help of the Cloud, he was able to interpret that speech into specific requests and commands.
Pivot: From Cozmo 2.0 to a Brand New Product
Vector was initially conceived as a direct follow-on to Cozmo, Anki's award-winning educational robot for kids.
Shortly before I was hired, it was determined that we would instead create a new product line with Vector, aimed at 'tech immersives'. Based on that decision, we began designing with more sophistication and less kids' entertainment and education in mind.
Early Persona - Tech Immersive User
Outlining Structure for the Application
For Vector's companion app, a key early step was to lay out the structure and determine what sorts of goals user should be able to achieve within the app. I reviewed strategic goals and specs for the robot and constructed a flexible architecture to highlight Vector’s new options and capabilities.
This architecture formed a solid foundation for the application's structure and supported all necessary robot interactions through product launch.
Product Requirement Documents
Documenting Human-Robot Interactions
During my work at Anki, I revised our documentation for robot interactions. I formalized how interactions were noted, and chose a format that was easy to use, easy to edit, and served well as a comprehensive record and plan for behaviors.
The content highlighted three key areas of a given design: The app's onscreen display, the user's actions, and the robot's behavior.
Tracking all three of these factors leads to an almost theatrical understanding of where the user's attention should be focused at any given time, whether on the robot, the application's controls, or (occasionally) on some other factor.
Motion Design Prototypes
Data Visualization for Users
One of the challenges of marketing and selling a sophisticated robot to the public is that so much of the beautiful complexity of the product exists under the surface. A product that 'just works' hides some of the amazing technical accomplishment that enables its function.
To that end, I proposed that we add a visualization of the robot's inner workings to Vector's companion app.
Data Visualization as Sensory Feed
Spontanaeity and Emergence of Behaviors
One of the most fascinating things that can occur when developing a sophisticated autonomous system is the appearance of spontaneous and unexpected behaviors. We found that once we had given Vector a desire to be petted on the touch pad on his back, he found additional ways to pet himself, without human intervention.
In this video, Vector snuggles himself under a laptop stand as a substitute for human touch, and happily lets it 'pet' him. This was one of a few behaviors that emerged without designers' explicit intent, and was a delightful example of how robots blur the lines between machines and living beings.