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iRobot Multi-Robot Controller Tablet App

Company: iRobot (Defense & Security)
Role: Lead Interaction & Visual Designer
Released: 2015

Summary

iRobot's Defense & Security division (now Endeavor Robotics) requested a complete overhaul and unified digital platform solution for their Defense & Security product line of robots, ranging from 25 to 500 lbs., all with varying capabilities and attachments. iRobot’s robots are deployed worldwide, and their uses range from reconnaissance work, reading radiation levels in nuclear power plants, to bomb-disposal duties at home and abroad.

Project Goals

Our goals were to align the suite of robot operating systems to be housed under one-touch interface tablet-based controller:

• Lower the barrier to operation across products
• Reduce iRobot's FSE (Field Service Engineers) training time with clients
• Allow users to become empowered operators
• Become best in class user experience for digital robot controls

Challenges

Every robot operated via different operating systems and UIs, was tethered to a ruggedized laptops, and required handheld gaming joysticks. This created not only constraints of a wired and restricted environment, but also served up different operating experiences, thereby increasing the learning curve of the operators. In reviewing the 500 page PRD, it was clear we had our work cut out for us in designing an adaptable and scalable UI based on the model of robot connected, doing so within a limited screen real estate, and while considering environmental and physical hindrances of the operators (e.g. protective gear).

Discovery & Problem Definition

This project started with extensive research. I co-led alongside another UX designer who headed up the user research, information architecture, and the modular framework, while I drove the interaction design, branding, and visual design system. Over the span of several weeks, we conducted field studies and user interviews to collect feedback from both FSE's and customers directly. Our approach included:

• Field studies interviewing FSE (Field Service Engineers / Trainers), Boston Bomb Squad officers, and hands-on experience operating the robots at obstacle courses and underground MBTA station (subway) training facility
• Reviewing and adhering our designs to the 500 page PRD, which needed us to accommodate (and not preclude) various modes, payloads (attachments), and cameras across the four types of robots ranging in size.
• Validating multiple wireframe approaches to the modality (modes - driving, inspect, manipulate) which was a completely new paradigm. We needed to prove it worked across all the robots as a singular operating system and with ease of adoption and use by the operators.
• Creating a proof of concept, to be built out by the developers, for validation with user testing and signed off by leadership.
• Establishing the brand (visual style, iconography, fonts, color palette) from scratch, with no guidelines. At the time, only the iRobot Home Product Division had Branding Guidelines. This allowed me total freedom to establish the style from scratch.

Results

The app was first to market amongst their competition with a tablet controller in the robotics & defense industry. This was the company's # 1 priority at the time, and we had the backing of the SVP/GM, calling it a "game changer" for the company.

Due to the client's positive reaction to our work and gaining green light approval on the Proof of Concept, our original 12-week engagement received a 14-month extension for the full design and build, which was an additional $1M of work.

Video of the interface and robotic control in action can be found on Mashable and was featured in tv programs such as NBC's "The Blacklist".