An Ecosystem for Home Robotics

Product Design, Project Management, UI/UX Design, Wireframing, Software Engineering
Coral Robots
CEO, Co-Founder
May 2017 - Present
Existing IoT Apps all look the same. What if we did something radically different?
IoT. I. O. T. Eye-Oh-Tee…Everything has become “smart” - smart fridges, smart toothbrushes, and even smart egg holders. But despite the great buzzwordiness of the internet of things, everything out there is a copy-pasted template of apps. I worked with our design team to concept and build a new type of IoT App that is focused on being applications driven, rather than just being a remote control.

In the World...
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Imagining the Home as an Ecosystem for Robots

Most people treat IoT applications as a remote control for the “smart” device, and the innovation stops there. There are a few exceptions: Ring’s Neighbors App, Nest’s Learning Thermostat, and Eero’s Wireless Routers. Their applications promote new behaviors - safer neighborhoods, better energy efficiency, and more responsible browsing -that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

When it came to the Coral App, I pushed our design and engineering teams to think about how an application is actually an extension for robots, not just a remote control device. And we learned that we had to create a platform for new apps.

A Platform for New Apps

s we imagined a world with lots of robots, we realized that we were missing the platform to make it possible. Lots of IoT devices exist in silos - tied to various back-ends, brands, or product strategies.

So, before we set out to build out a fully-scaled app, we were intentional in designing use cases and architectures before accumulating too much technical debt.

Creating Delightful Moments

When I talk to people about robots and automation, they immediately jump to some Terminator-esque, sci-fi future where there humans are fighting for survival against robots.

But the reality is that people are more receptive to robots that are fun and cute. Imagine your favorite robots - R2D2, WALL-E, and Rosie - they are imperfect, but we find ourselves getting emotionally attached to them.

I worked with our engineering team to build “Easter Eggs” and delightful interactions that can help create a new pet-like connection between people and robots.

Apps, apps, and more apps

After several radical brainstorming concepts, we realized that there was no good applications for IoT devices. They were all very dry and boring, and we wanted wanted to change that.

Some radical concepts that came out of it included a Pacman cleaning mode. A Twitch-plays mode where your friends could connect and control your robot remotely. And even a Guard Dog mode that would sound and alarm if an intruder entered your home.

I sketched, designed, and tested various lo-fi wireframes as well as PoC click-through prototypes that would prove out what applications we felt were most interesting for home robotics.

Rinse and Repeat

Prototyping is a key part to building both digital and physical products. I led prototyping efforts between our software design team and hardware design team. Sometime we would even have combined working sessions to check each other on our assumptions and technological frameworks.

Creating a Scalable Technical Architecture

Robotics is about the perfect mesh of hardware and software. This means that we had to be extremely intentional with the type of architecture we chose. Otherwise one small change could result in a chain reaction of changes that would be extremely costly and time-intensive to fix.

I worked with our technical teams to design architectures that would balance out development time, complexity, and cost.

Leveraging Existing Technologies

We live in a day and age where hardware technology is more accessible than ever. So why not utilize the technologies that are already out there?

Unlike IoT companies from 5 or 10 years ago, they had to build a great deal of their own infrastructure and ran into a lot of issues - technical debt, server management, and privacy issues.

I negotiated with vendors, 3rd parties, and other provides to create a cost-effective and feasible way to build our new app.

Protecting User Data & Privacy

In recent years, robotic vacuums have shipped with a surprising amount of high-fidelity sensors that can accurately map out one’s homes. This means that it gives you much more information and data about location, context, and space.

But this also carries a great deal of responsibility. After recent data privacy issues such as the Cambridge Analytica hack, we set one key design principles: never transfer sensitive personal unprotected.

I worked with my software engineering team to create an architectural schema that would filter and encrypt information collected by robots and safely pass them through our backend.

The Coral App

The Coral App connects your robot with the rest of the world. Aside from being able to control your robot, it has ways for other robots to communicate with each other. It’s the “Google Translate” of our human thoughts into a language that your robot will understand.

At launch, we would roll out 7 apps and then plan out a number of firmware and software updates.

The Coral Compass

In addition to the Coral App, we developed a new accessory call the Coral Compass. Yes, we definitely drew inspiration from the Nintendo Switch video game console.

In our user testing, the Coral Compass was an incredibly easy way for people spot clean their robot. And have a tremendous amount of fun. Once we put the Compass into kids’ hands, their faces lit up.