The Lady Bug’s Life: A Caretaker Drone

Nour Amireh — Product Designer and Design researcher

Sarah Rashid — Product Designer and Design researcher

Sweekruthi Raghunathan — Product Designer and Design researcher


Our team of HCI product designers and researchers at The University of Washington were tasked with the creation of a project to assist a local community. After brainstorming several communities, we chose senior citizens in assisted living communities. We became interested in tackling problems that senior citizens, particularly those with mobility issues, face day to day. In their old age, senior citizens tend to develop mobility issues and lack strength or energy to complete basic tasks. Other issues like memory loss, vision loss, hearing loss, and more 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 and becomes dependent on others. We found a sense of hesitation in our research participants to ask caretakers/household members for help with certain tasks, especially when they are as simple as getting their glasses. 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 to do this than design a smart ladybug drone to assist with household chores? Enter: CareBug!

Based on the patterns we found in our research, we found that senior citizens struggle with physical and mental health issues as a result of their mobility issues. We found a common theme of declining mental health among many of our research participants — senior citizens with decreased mobility. For example, one elderly woman we spoke to faces severe mobility issues. With the little energy she has each day, she typically chooses to do one chore and is unable to do much the rest of the day, including attending social gatherings or senior events stemming a cycle of depression and poor mental health. Keeping these themes in mind, we wanted our drone to do more than just complete household chores. Read on to find out what exactly we did!

Our Solution

Our solution not only takes care of household chores and simple tasks, thereby preserving a senior’s energy, but also encouraging seniors to create connections within their living community by attending events and focusing on tasks that really matter. CareBug is a two part solution involving a smartphone application and an indoor drone. The drone is controlled and directed by the user’s interaction with the app. The drone named “CareBug”, is technologically advanced with flexible/extendable claws, spatial sensors, smart camera, and spatial sensors giving it the ability to navigate around a home, pick up items and push and pull simple doors. With these features, it can accomplish household chores like loading/unloading dishes, taking out the trash, doing laundry, and retrieving items within a household (see Final Mockup section for details). The item retrieval task is especially useful in preparing a user to leave for a community event with the items they need. CareBug will retrieve those items and keep them ready by the door for the user. Apart from these, the user also has the option to schedule a task for the drone to complete while they are away attending an event. CareBug has got your mental, physical health, AND social life covered!

Our initial prototype and testing process

We didn’t arrive at this solution overnight of course. We developed at least 5–6 intermediate iterations of our solution that we have refined over the last 9 weeks. To give you a general idea, here’s how we arrived at our first full low-fidelity prototype:

After brainstorming about our initial solution (involving sketches, user research, feedback from other researchers, etc), we first created a low-fidelity paper prototype to portray the design, flow, and structure of our application. We also created a very simple drone prototype to get a sense of how each part of the solution ties together. We were then ready for our first set of usability tests! The two main tasks we focused on for testing included loading and unloading the dishwasher as well as retrieving items. Using the app, “Marvel”, we used images of our paper prototype to link pages together allowing us to test the prototype with real users. We had our household members act as senior citizens to test our solution. Besides usability testing, we also had members of another team walk through our prototype to give us general feedback and point out any issues.

Throughout the process of testing and receiving feedback, we discovered a variety of big and small issues with our app prototype. One important discovery was that our app was not very good at communicating with the user and updating them on the current status of the drone. There were moments when the user had just clicked a button but was unsure about what the button was for and what was happening. To solve this issue, we added a series of different pop ups to communicate with the user about every step of a task or about any problems encountered during a task. Another significant observation made was that our social events calendar didn’t tie well together with the rest of the functionality of the app and drone. It stood out as a random aspect of the app that didn’t add any value. So, we worked on redesigning this aspect of the app so that it is better integrated. We added features to help users retrieve items to prepare for social events and give them the ability to schedule tasks while they are away. We also learned about other minor issues like misleading button sizes, the not so effective layouts of some of the pages, etc., that we fixed in future revisions. Overall, our revisions improved our design significantly and it started to check some design checkboxes/heuristics.

Preliminary digital mockup and further revision

After we finalized our paper prototype, we proceeded to make a preliminary digital mockup. At this stage we made some basic decisions about color, font, icons, images, etc. This created an opportunity to receive feedback on any design decisions before moving to creating the final digital mockup. There were quite a few changes we made from our preliminary to our final digital mockups based on feedback from our TAs. Our changes to the style included making the app consistent with fonts, sizes, colors, and buttons. We made our buttons look more like buttons rather than static boxes. We changed a few colors, including a grey bar at the bottom to hold the home, back and next buttons, to make it seem professional, but still colorful. We added task flows for laundry and garbage and made the components in “Dishes” simpler by creating one button for “Start Loading” instead of a confusing next button. We also redefined what our two main tasks are. Having added two other important household chores (since the paper prototype), garbage and laundry, we treated our second main task to include all household chores and not just dishes. CareBug charging is now automated too. We also added the pages for the “Report a problem” flow, which can be seen if you click on the “report a problem” link on some of our pops up in the final digital prototype. There is no charging page now, instead CareBug will return to its charging station when it is not in use and automatically charge itself. For further integration of social calendar events with the whole app, in the “Retrieve Items” page you can now get items for your upcoming events and there is a popup when an event is starting soon for the CareBug to grab event items. Also, CareBug is now fully equipped with a new coat of paint and all her parts including a rechargeable battery, sensors, cameras, and a charging station.

Final Digital Mockup

And so finally, here we are at the end of 9 weeks with a final digital mockup of our product!

Link to final digital mockup:

[Side note: When the drone is done completing a task, the app is designed to automatically show the next screen to say the task has been completed. Since this is a time/sensor based action, we weren’t able to reflect that properly in the Axure prototype. Instead, you can simply click anywhere on the page (or on the next step of progress bar for laundry) to proceed to completion.]

Drone prototype:

CareBug. CareBug’s eyes are visual sensors.

The drone has two flexible/extendable arms with claws that can grab on to all sorts of objects, a rechargeable battery, and it comes with a charging station and small stick-on location chips.

The charging station — CareBug’s home

The drone has a rechargeable battery located just above its arms. These golden plates are the point of contact between the charger and the battery.

CareBug’s arms fold while sitting on it’s charging station. CareBug is by default at it’s charging station, charging whenever idle. When the user wants to complete a task, CareBug will leave it’s station, complete the task and then return to the station. If CareBug is running low on battery, it will notify the user, finish it’s task and not allow more requests until it recharges enough.

A location chip to stick onto any items CareBug needs to locate

CareBug also has two spatial sensors located on the back and one right below its head. These help it to navigate around the house and sense the shape of items.

CareBug is designed to retrieve items within a household as well as complete household chores such as dishes, laundry, and garbage disposal. CareBug has spatial sensors for detecting objects and walls, allowing it to easily navigate around a home and avoid bumping into obstacles. It also has a smart deep learning camera to determine objects and their sizes for chores like dishes and laundry. The application allows a user to interact with the ladybug drone, either through voice assistant, if a user chooses or is visually impaired, or through the touch-screen interface designed to be simple and clear with big fonts and icons for our seniors.

CareBug allows for two main overall tasks: item retrieval and household chores. We recorded some task flows to help show them more effectively.

Main task 1 — Item retrieval: In a situation where you need your glasses, water bottle, or prescription, CareBug will find and fetch it for you. Setting up this feature is easy. In the app choose “Item Retrieval”, choose “Edit Items” and “Add Item”, scan and attach one of CareBug’s chips to your favorite item, name it, and now it’s ready to be retrieved and dropped in your hands at any time.

Task flow video:

Besides these everyday items, CareBug will also similarly retrieve items you need for any social event. From the homepage, press the “Events” button. This will take you to your calendar filled with your community’s events. You can select events and edit the list of items you need for that event. CareBug will then remind you when your event is about to start and fetch the items you need for it. You will also find the option to fetch event items from the “Item Retrieval” button on the homepage. You can also use the calendar to schedule tasks for CareBug to complete on any specific date/time.

[Side note: If you’re curious about how the social events get added to the calendar — When a user first creates an account on the CareBug app, they can do so as a community admin user or as a drone user. If you are a community admin, you will only be able to access the calendar page of the app and add events for your senior living community there. You can edit these events at any time. These events will sync and show up on the calendars for all drone users who specify your community when they first create their account on the app.]

Main task 2 — Household chores: CareBug takes care of the following household chores:

  • Dishes: From the homepage of the CareBug application, choose “Dishes”, then choose either load or unload, follow the steps on the screen, and CareBug will begin taking care of the dishes.

Task flow video:

  • Laundry: From the homepage of the CareBug application, choose “Laundry”, “Start Cycle”, place your basket of dirty clothes near the washer, and CareBug will begin doing the laundry. CareBug goes through the steps of loading the washer with clothes from the basket, transferring the clothes from washer to dryer, then unloads from the dryer into the same basket. You can view the current status of the process and pause or stop this process at any time.
  • Garbage: From the homepage of the CareBug application, choose “Garbage”, “start garbage disposal” and CareBug will locate the garbage bin and take the trash out to your dumpster or front door (whichever you choose in initial setup).


If you haven’t already, one day, we will all enter our old age and may find ourselves struggling with health issues, keeping an organized home, and connecting with our community. We may be dependent on caretakers or other family members. CareBug is a solution that cares for our older generations and eventually us too. It is a technologically advanced system that takes care of household chores such as laundry, dishes, and garbage, while encouraging and preparing us for events within our community. We could focus our energy on attending events and gatherings, boosting our physical and mental wellbeing. CareBug all but pushes you out the door to get to these events. It is a product and a solution that can effectively change the lives of our elderly loved ones. Whether it be our grandparents/parents, relatives/friends, or one day, us, CareBug will empower people and undoubtedly make a positive difference in someone’s lifestyle.

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction