As robotics technology continues to develop, and the premise of the technology having an increased presence in our everyday lives becomes more certain, UX Designers are needed more than ever in ensuring there is a smooth implementation. Many people are, understandably, sceptical about robotics, which is often due to a lack of understanding based on limited information about them; what people don’t know, they often fear. It is therefore vital that there are UX Designers out there, learning more about the potential users of robotics and ensuring that they are kept in mind throughout the design and development process.
Let’s start at the very beginning
Before anyone even begins the design process, it must first be decided whether the robotic technology is appropriate to complete the task in hand. There are some tasks that will always require human input and that would be ill-advised to replace with robotics. As brilliantly summed up in a UX Matters article, “UX designers must identify the right tasks to automate, create a natural way of automating them, and provide a seamless user experience.” As applies to any new product development, there would be no point going to the lengths of designing the technology without fully understanding whether there is a market for it first.
UX Research + Robotics = No walk in the park
Whilst UX research will forever be of importance, and even more so in the emerging technology arena, when it comes to UX research and robotics, and as Alexia Buclet quite rightly points out, it is hard to carry out user and market research, where there is a very limited market currently established. Therefore there is no benchmark product(s) for UX Researchers and Designers to work against, which makes their lives much harder. Buclet goes on to note that typically within the field of robotics there are two types of consumers; those who are robot fanatics and will take on any chance to try and test them, and those who have never come into contact with a robot before. These extremes in consumption can further enhance the difficulties UX Researchers face.
These are the challenges…
Lindblom and Andreasson identify three types of robotics; industrial robotics, professional service robotics and personal service robotics, with the latter of which having the highest expected growth rate. These include such technologies as robotic vacuums or robotic receptionists. It is this same group which requires the most UX Research in order to facilitate the most effective social interaction skills, as it is these which will come into direct contact with humans and operate in social spaces.
In their discussion, Lindblom and Andreasson identify three key challenges in the incorporation of UX in Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) design:
- There is a need to employ an iterative design method; an approach to which robot development doesn’t typically lend itself. One reason for this is the cost implication of designing and producing prototype robotics which means there is usually less manoeuvrability in terms of how many ‘versions’ one can make of a robot to test and allow for improvements.
- They note the importance of setting ‘UX Goals’, which is something that is often overlooked in HRI development due to, they suggest, a lack of understanding or a lack of time. As a result, the effectiveness of the UX evaluation is limited due to an improper strategy.
- Robot developers need to acquire the knowledge, both in theory and practice, behind how to successfully carry out a UX evaluation, in order to correctly adapt them to HRI research, again with a view to getting the most out of the process.
Nevertheless, robotics technology is undeniably on the rise and the market is only set to grow — an ABI report predicted that the collaborative robotics market will exceed the $1bn mark by 2020. For UX teams then, not only does this mean initially that they need to find ways to overcome these obstacles as their research is still vital, but also, as time goes on, the market will evolve and they will therefore have more to work with which should better facilitate their work.
Robots are our friends
A fear amongst many people is the misconception that robots are taking over from humans, and even replacing our jobs. Throughout the design process, therefore, it is vital that designers emphasise the fact that robots will adapt to work with us, not the other way around. An article by UX Matters explained this perfectly in saying: “…it is critical that we do not characterize the use of RPA or artificial intelligence as technology that reduces human work or, at worst, whose intended purpose is to harm humans. Instead, we should look at software robots as technology that we’re designing to support the work of human beings.“ This, along with the premise that robots could take over the boring, mundane jobs that are beyond a human’s skill set, and which in turn would free up humans to do more complex or exciting jobs, could actually lead to the belief that robots will enhance our lives and jobs, rather than take away from them.
…so much so they want to be just like us
Whilst we maintain that there are strong arguments to reassure those with a fear that robots will replace humans, it has been found that where robots have already been incorporated into lives, they have been more successful when they closely resemble humans in terms of mannerisms. A coffee shop in San Francisco have already employed a public-facing robot who knows how to check the coffee machine to see how much coffee is left, and serve customers their drink. It has been found that when carrying out tasks that are usually carried out by humans (such as serving coffee), people prefer for the robot to carry out the task in exactly the same way that a human would, and not change the process (even if it is to simplify). Taking this on board, the San Francisco robot has learnt to do even the most basic of tasks, in order to fully imitate a human barista, such as giving the coffee a swirl before handing to the customer, which has helped it’s welcoming by its customers.
It’s clear to see that robots are set to play a bigger part in our daily lives, with a view to improving many aspects of life by automating appropriate processes or actions. It is vital therefore that amongst the design and development of these technologies, user experience is always kept in mind. Robotics in general are and will continue to face a certain element of scepticism as they enter the marketplace and people’s lives, so it’s vital that a positive user experience is one thing they do offer. That will be easier said than done though, when, as discussed, UX Designers do face a tall order when it comes to researching the UX of robotics, partly due to a limited existed market, which tends to exist at two extremes of the consumption scale; that, coupled with the cost implications behind each prototype they produce, makes it a somewhat unique UX Design case.
As a (what seems to be) somewhat dividing matter, we’d love to hear your thoughts on or experience so far with robots in the comments below!
The Snap Out Team