The Lady Bug’s Life: A Caretaker Drone

Contributors: Nour Amireh, Sarah Rashid, Sweekruthi Raghunathan

Project overview

Our team of HCI product designers and researchers at The University of Washington were tasked with the creation of a new interface to assist a local community. We ultimately settled on designing for senior citizens. We became interested in tackling problems that senior citizens, particularly those with mobility issues, face on a regular basis. In their old age, senior citizens tend to develop mobility issues and lack strength or energy to do basic tasks. Other issues like memory loss, vision loss, hearing loss, etc., only add to the overall difficulty to carry out simple but important tasks. As mobility issues become more severe, the senior citizen becomes unable to tend to their home and take care of themselves, as they once did, and becomes dependent on others. We wanted to find a solution that helped senior citizens take care of themselves and their homes while empowering them to feel a sense of independence. And what better way than design a smart ladybug drone to assist with household chores?

Our design research process

In order to research this problem, our two main routes of gathering information were surveys and interviews. We posted anonymous surveys asking senior citizens about their mobility issues, tasks that are difficult for them, if they utilize the services of a caretaker and more. These surveys were anonymous so we were not able to gather the participants’ background/environment other than their mobility issue history. After sending our surveys to several different facilities, we decided to post our survey links on senior citizen facebook pages. We decided on surveys because of their flexibility and ability to gather information from users in a low pressure way. The surveys also helped us find common themes amongst our target group. We also conducted a couple of interviews, both with senior citizens ,and asked them to detail their issues with mobility, the sorts of tasks they struggle with, and their general backgrounds. Interviewing senior citizens allowed us to learn straight from the individuals we were designing for and get an understanding for what they needed. One of our interviewees was a senior citizen who used to be a caretaker. She told stories of her life living alone and the problems she has faced in caretaking facilities. Her insight and background as a stakeholder helped us gain an understanding of what senior citizens could benefit from most. We chose to do interviews because it gave us a chance to get to know our target group. The interviews gave them a chance to detail their lives and tell their stories. That sort of data was incredibly valuable to us as we designed our solution.

What we learned from our design research

Our design research helped uncover valuable ideas and themes that allowed us to iterate and create a better design. Firstly, senior citizens commonly mentioned they lacked ongoing energy to do household chores and would delay them as much as they could. These tasks included washing dishes, cooking many meals at once, even using the bathroom. With this knowledge we broadened our design’s potential tasks from just retrieving items to doing other chores such as dishes and possibly garbage collection or laundry.

Also, in our online research about emerging robot caretakers, we found that people prefer more cartoon-like caretakers to realistic ones because it would feel less like interacting with a machine. This pushed us to create a more kind and cartoon looking final design. We also learned that senior citizens felt that spiritual healing through human relationships and interactions was just as important as assistance with household tasks. This led us to incorporate a social and community like aspect in our design.

While seniors do tend to enjoy the human connection they have with their caretakers, there are situations where they expressed hesitation to ask their caretakers to assist them with simple tasks like fetching their medicine or glasses. This encouraged us to pick up these simple tasks to help seniors feel less dependent on others.

Our last research takeaway involved our design’s physical build. Participants had looked at our original design and compared a claw to that of one in an arcade that seldom grips items correctly. With this feedback we moved to a sturdier design.

Our Solution

Given everything we’ve learned through research, we’ve been iterating on a design consisting of a medium sized drone. It could conveniently navigate its way around a household and a phone app can interact with it. The drone has two extendable and flexible arms, with claws specifically designed to be able to pick up items of all shapes, sizes, and materials. It has a smart camera and spatial awareness. The drone also comes with a charging station to which it will automatically fly to and connect itself when it is low on charge (yes, kinda like that rumba thing we all know).

The setup is simple — attach the location chips that come with the drone to any items you want your drone to find, download the app onto any smart device. And Voila! You have control of a new ladybug friend through the app’s touch screen interface or voice command feature. It can now assist you in completing simple tasks and household chores. Below is a picture of our application design.

For example, say you want to fetch your keys before you leave home but you don’t remember where you left them or you are having trouble getting up to get your water bottle. It’s easy! Just use the app to ask your drone to fetch items for you. The drone will locate your item using the location chip, pick it up with its claw and bring it to you. Below is an example storyboard where a senior needs help fetching their glasses.

Apart from fetching items for you, the drone can also perform other complicated tasks like loading the dishwasher or washing machine, thanks to its smart camera and motion sensors. Below is a storyboard to help picture the scenario.

While researching and working on this design, we also felt the need to come up with a way to serve the senior citizens community as a whole. So, we added more tasks like community garbage disposal, where the drone can pick up the garbage bags from each apartment and drop it in the common garbage disposal bin. The drones could also be used by senior living communities to help with laundry. One of our most exciting tasks is called the “find me a friend” task. The user could select this task when they feel like connecting with others in the community and the drone will find another senior (who also uses a drone) who is available at the moment and get them connected.

In conclusion, our ladybug drone will serve as a loyal and intelligent assistant that is never too tired to give you a hand (or a pair of hands) so that you can live your best life.

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction