Enabling Impromptu Interaction Through a Robotic Water Cooler

From The Theme

What if we could leverage smart personal devices, and their communicative abilities, to encourage coworkers to interact with each other?

We set out to develop a personal, robot interaction platform that, through its movement and behavior, triggers individuals and groups to gather and interact. Specifically, we aimed to develop a personality interactive robotic water cooler that could be used to improvise and prototype socially evocative behaviors. Unlike workplace robots oriented toward interactions between humans and robots, the robotic water cooler focused on fostering connections between people.

Using human-centric, interactive design process, we developed a functional robotic water cooler platform – CoolerBot – that could move around crowded workspaces smoothly, use both remote and automated control, sense and collect audio-visual data, dispense water, and interact with office workers in multiple ways.

CoolerBot featured onboard cameras and a microphone to enable remote audio-visual observation and data capture. It could be controlled over WiFi by a remote operator to simulate autonomous behavior for experiments. It employed Bluetooth-based localization to figure out where coworkers are in the building, and broadcast its location to office workers using a Slack chatbot, enabling them to interact with it both in person and online. CoolerBox has the ability to generate speech and robot sounds, as well as liquid gurgling.

mediaX Research Update, Fall 2016

Designing the Behavior of Interactive Objects, ACM 2016

Larry Leifer is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University and Director of the Center for Design Research. Dr. Leifer’s engineering design thinking research is focused on instrumenting design teams to understand, support, and improve design practice and theory. Specific issues include: design-team research methodology, global team dynamics, innovation leadership, interaction design, design-for-wellbeing, and adaptive mechatronic systems.

Wendy Ju is an Assistant Professor, Information Science, at Cornell Tech. At the time of this project and during her time at Stanford, she was the Executive Director of Interaction Design Research at the Center for Design Research (CDR). Dr. Ju’s research in the areas of physical interaction design and ubiquitous computing investigates how implicit interactions can enable novel and natural interfaces through the intentional management of attention and initiative.

At the time of the project, David Sirkin was a Research Associate at Stanford University’s Center for Design Research (CDR), where he focused on design methodology, as well as the design of physical interactions between humans and robots, and autonomous vehicles and their interfaces. He was also a Lecturer in Electrical Engineering, where he taught interactive device design. David frequently collaborates with, and consults for, local Silicon Valley and global technology companies including Siemens, SAP and Microsoft Research. As of 2018, Dr. Sirkin is Executive Director of the CDR.

Xiao Ge is a PhD Student, Design Research, Mechanical Engineering. She describes a project’s design process as to explore through ambiguity. Exploring is fun. And ambiguity is challenging. Her vertical focuses are in Design Methodology, Innovation Training/coaching as well as Mechanical Engineering while her horizontal skills range from planting, sewing, nature, mechatronics, programming, cooking, sketching, reading, sports (tennis and martial arts), cats and dogs, and volunteering.