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Summary

Robots are assisting individuals and professionals worldwide. Dairy Farming is one of the many applications increasingly relying on them. Designing safe devices with appealing UIs is not enough to cover the current interaction needs. We should move beyond that notion. The goal is to create robots that we can understand and trust, so we can coexist and collaborate with them optimally.

I designed guidelines on robot behavior for the development of the Automated portfolio at Lely Industries. This guide would assist the growing team of 450 developers in embedding Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) in their decision-making practice.  This solution proved to be an accessible and helpful guide.

Role

UX Research & Design

Date

Year 2021 - 2022

Methodology

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Participant 
Observation

Interviews

Interaction
Storyboard

Creative Prototyping

Group
Brainstorming

Workshops

1-on-1
Testing

Usability 
Testing

This project consisted of three phases, each supported by extensive literature research. It was a highly multidisciplinary process where I involved over 65 stakeholders (a variety of experts at Lely, farmers, and HRI researchers).

 Analysis    ~ What is the current situation? 
I started exploring the context and its challenges to frame the problem space.


 Generation   ~ What would the ideal scenario be? 
Then I moved towards an ideation process to construct a goal together with the stakeholders.


 Synthesis   ~ How could we achieve this goal?
The project concluded with an iterative co-design process. I engaged experts in defining and detailing the most fitting solution. Resulting in the Robot Code of Conduct.

Robots, the new members of the team

Dairy farming robots milk, feed, and clean the cows among other tasks. Many of them move around the barn sharing space with farmers, visitors, and animals. Lely robots are pretty machines, they are safe, and their performance is unmatched.

However, new challenges come when we take robots into our real unpredictable world. I visited robotized farms to observe these interactions. Once, I was part of a group getting a farm tour when I experienced a situation that illustrates the current challenges.

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Mark, the farmer
“I am explaining the farm to my visitors when they start panicking. Oh, the robot is passing and pushing them through the alley...  The robot is harmless but the visitors know nothing about how it works or how to stop it. I hurry to press the pause button. We continue...”
*40 minutes later*
“I forgot to resume the robot and now the cow feed comes late, annoying robots....

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Juno, the robot feed pusher
Hey do not blame me, I work perfectly. Did you not hear my beep or see my light when I was coming? I was moving through my designated path, just doing my job as I was programmed forannoying humans....

Robot in the farm stopped in a narrow alley
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To what extent are our robots designed for coexistence? Do these systems acknowledge other agents around them and accommodate their situations and needs? Do we know when and how to interact with robots? and therefore, can we trust them?

Visualizing the challenges

I mapped the data from my research, what I read, saw, and discussed. For example, I created Interaction Storyboards. This allowed me to better understand and convey the current situation.  

Example: The intricate world of alarms

Lely systems send alarms to alert and inform. Alarms can be digital (pop-up message) or physical (sound).

Digital ecosystem of Lely systems
Storyboard 2. When to send the alarms? Timing impacts user experience. Farmers rely on alarm to act on time and do not want to be unnecessarily disturbed.

When to send the alarms? Timing impacts user experience. Farmers rely on alarms to act on time and do not want to be unnecessarily disturbed.

Storyboard 1. Where to alarm? How to choose the right channel? To be able to act, the receiver must get the message and be able to decrypt it

Where to alarm? How to choose the right channel? To be able to act, the receiver must get the message and be able to decrypt it.

Storyboard 3. How to notify? The amount of information and the tone used is important and may depend on factors like urgency.

How to notify? The amount of information and the tone used is important and may depend on factors like urgency.

Insights

  • There are many necessary points to consider when designing robot behaviors that are not yet part of the development practice.

  • For example predictability, explainability, or co-evolution. Aspects that affect the performance and user experience.

  • ​The Lely robots look like a team but do not act cohesively.

  • I aim to improve the experience of the final users at the barn, but for that, my real target group is the experts that have an impact on the design of the final product.

  • Involving these experts in the process is powerful to spread awareness among the company on the relevance of Human-Robot Interaction.

Ideation

“A robot saying sorry? I never thought about it”- Robot Developer

I carried out several participatory activities. I guided experts into reflecting on their practice to then open their minds to explore new futures and robot behaviors. The goal was to understand how the stakeholders envision the ideal human-robot interactions and the path to create them. I designed and facilitated these activities.

Large table with post its with robots names on the X axis and robot values on the Y axis
First workshop image of developer playing the role of the robot.

I analyzed the data collected and synthesized it.

Defining the desired Lely robot behaviors 

  • A good Lely robot is Accurate, Reliable, Efficient, Clear, and Friendly. It is also perceived as such.

  • Depending on the context some values should prevail over others.

  • It is not just a robot, it should be YOUR robot.

  • All Lely robots look like one and should act cohesively.

How can robots be designed in that way?

  • Development teams must face new questions, and set and share a vision. What is the goal of the design and who is the prospective user?

  • Interactions are complex, and this should be acknowledged. Nuances in the robot's behavior can greatly impact the users' perception.

  • Guidelines are an effective tool to inform and unify the development practice.

  • Good guidelines are abstract to accommodate all products, yet actionable to be properly followed.

Accuracy

Reliability

Efficiency

Clarity

Friendliness

Defining the concept

I tested whether the guidelines were a suitable solution. Following an iterative process, I developed the document's structure, content, style, and readability. Observing how people used the document taught me a lot and helped me shape the final version.
Similar to how humans guide behavior, I decided to frame this document as a Code of Conduct. These would be a compilation of
rules and advice with different degrees of normative power tailored to the company. 

Participants testing the clarity of the code

“Before, all that mattered was that we solved the problem. Now it also matters how well we solve it” - Robot Developer

Some insights from the tests reflected on the final design:

Code of Conduct, reliability chapter

A general description was not enough.  What does the message mean for the reader? (describe from the perspective of the robot)

The chapters required a clear design to ease navigation through the document.

Information conveyed in different ways (text, questions, images...) is accessible to more people than a standard definition.

Robot Code of Conduct, template to face HRI questions
Robot Code of Conduct, example od reliabilityt

Examples are shaped as fables. I used storytelling to increase engagement.

I included takeaways from the story to start triggering ideas on how to use the knowledge in practice.

Big illustrations make the document more fun and self-descriptive.

Including guidelines in a template encourages development teams to face relevant questions. 

To make templates easier to understand and use they go together with pre-filled examples.

Robot Code of Conduct, how do the robots currently communicate?

The most desired feature of the Code is an overview of how the different robots should communicate taking into account all previous considerations.

These diagrams offer detailed instructions which are really efficient but they must be frequently updated.

I expect this code to ignite a change of mentality in the company. It already generated curiosity and reflection among those involved. With proper promotion, this document has the potential to raise essential questions at the right moment to steer decisions on robot development.
Below is the initial part of the Robot Code of Conduct. A complete version can be found here 

Use the arrows to navigate!

Impact & next steps

Developers and farmers were excited about this code. Lely, a multinational company adopted this document to guide a growing team of over 450 developers. I not only fell in love with the field of HRI but also am working on an academic paper to share the knowledge acquired. 

In retrospect, I recognize that I could have optimized time by creating low-fidelity prototypes in the early stages. This would have allowed for more extensive usability testing and I would have complemented the code with an implementation plan divided into short-term and long-term goals.

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