From a ‘gun sucker inner’ to an ‘ocean organiser’, children have been applying their unique way of thinking to a range of problems. A group aged between 5-11 from the UK and Australia were asked what they would invent to make the world a better place. An illustrator then interpreted 10 of their drawings to help bring their inspiring ideas to life.
” Cody the Carer brings to mind Aido, a company that is on a mission to improve quality of life for humans using affordable and easy-to-use robotics and automation products. Aido is a service robot that can carry out tasks such as playing with children and helping people with household chores.”
Thanks Laura – Great to see that you got inspired with our Robot.
When we began discussing the idea of Aido, we explored various options for the design.
Research around robotic aesthetics also shows that humanoid robots face the challenge of the uncanny valley: the hypothesis being that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, there is a threshold beyond which it starts feeling strange and invoke unpleasant emotions.
We wanted to the robot to be mobile and be able to navigate around home on its own. But a biped robot can easily slip into uncanny valley territory.
What could a mobile robot be if not a humanoid?
While exploring options, we came across a ballbot design – where the base of the robot is a single omnidirectional ball on which the robot can navigate. The ballbot base fits a lot of our requirements around mobility, balance & recovery.
We figured with a bit of ergonomic research that the best height for such a robot would be between 3 and 3.5 ft. This meant that the interactions with Aido would seem natural whether you’re standing, lying on a bed or sitting.
Our industrial designer turned to biology for inspiration: he began studying the dolphin.
Dolphins are highly social animals, living in groups. Dolphins teach, learn and cooperate amongst themselves. They are known to form strong bonds, not only with their species but also with others.
Across several iterations, Aido began to take shape.
Aido would be a ballbot, about 3 to 3.5 feet in height, would have a touchscreen ‘head’ for tactile inputs, would support voice recognition, have a projector for output and special charging rings that could allow it to charge on its own.
And so began the journey of getting Aido’s physical features defined. In coming posts, we’ll talk more about the ballbot design, interface mechanisms and more.
When we began work on Aido’s UI, we realized it was a unique challenge. We had to factor in multiple elements in the interaction design – behavioral patterns, speech commands, motion and a large visual interface.
Our challenge with Aido’s interface was to balance likeability and utility. We decided to use a faceplate for Aido as the primary visual interface. Our consumer research showed that this gave Aido a warm and friendly look. However, the research also highlighted that we don’t appear ‘too close to being human’ – a threshold beyond which people begin finding robots creepy.
Designing the faceplate UI
Our UI design team led by Divesh Jaiswal iterated multiple designs with prospective users to figure out the faceplate UI. We finally split the faceplate visual design into three clusters:
Eyes, they say, are windows to the soul. We subconsciously seek and meet the eyes of those we speak to, humans or pets. It would be natural to seek the same for a robot designed for the home.
Aido has a pair of friendly eyes as the primary communication medium. Aido blinks at regular intervals to indicate that he’s awake and ready to hear you.
The visual style of the eyes was chosen to reflect friendliness, but maintain a visual distance from being too human.
Aido has an iris that moves to indicate he has registered some visual input. A little bridge between the eyes balances the eyes and serves as a voice guide when Aido speaks or listens. This makes the user comfortable that Aido is actively engaging with him/her during conversations.
Aido can monitor and manage a lot of your smart home devices as well as connected services. In addition to controls, many of these send notifications that Aido has to display.
Aido uses large flat icons with a sharp background to display notifications. These have been tested to ensure that they can be seen at a distance or when the device is moving, both essential for the environment that Aido will be used in.
While a user may ‘see’ a notification, s/he may often then ‘speak the next command. The visual interface accommodates voice and touch commands, so you can see a notification icon at a distance and just ask Aido to act on it (eg: see an email notification and ask Aido to read out the message)
3. App Interface
In addition to running regular Android apps, Aido comes preloaded with a set of apps specially designed for it. It also has skins for commonly used functions like playing music, setting an alarm and more.
We consciously designed the interface for these elements so that only key visual elements are shown on the UI. While Aido can run entirely on voice commands, having some key controls on the interface brings an element of comfort to users who have learnt to deal with other technology devices.
Users can use voice commands to activate more functionality (eg: show me the complete playlist), but most of this is hidden behind a menu icon, a planned redundancy. Once people get comfortable using voice commands with Aido, we expect them to rarely (or never) make a trip to the menu functionality.
Putting the interface elements together
Given the three distinct visual elements that make up Aido’s UI, we needed a way to allow for seamless transitions between states. This transition needed to be simple to learn, but powerful enough to factor in complex interactions in day-to-day usage.
After trying out multiple visual transitions, we hit upon the solution – a Toblerone-inspired switch menu with the three visual elements (Face, Notifications, App) on a side each.
A simple clockwise flip across the central axis would switch between Face and the App UI and an anti-clockwise flip from Face to a notification. The transition from the App UI to a notification is also just a flip away.
Our preliminary testing with users indicates that this simple model helps them quickly get a hang of Aido’s states and navigate the UI with ease.
Factoring in behavioural elements
As Aido breaks ground being a new category, we also considered behavioral aspects of human-robot interactions.
Research shows that there is a ‘desirable interfacing distance’ – roughly translates to the distance at which a mobile home robot should stop while approaching a human. This ensures that the robot doesn’t violate a human’s zone of comfort. Aido maintains this distance from you unless you walk over to it.
Voice is a key interface element with Aido. While having a conversation, people need an acknowledgement that they’ve been heard. Humans have various visual cues to demonstrate this – direct eye contact and head shakes, for instance.
Aido plays a short ‘ding’ sound to confirm it has finished hearing you. Cues like these make Aido appear more connected, rather than just a gadget.
Aido also has haptic sensors that let you tap it to close a task or wake it up from the sleep state. We found that this simple gesture made Aido appear friendly and connected.
We’ve put in a lot of work thinking through Aido’s interface elements and are waiting for users to start welcoming Aido to their homes. The dream of every designer is to have a happy user. We believe that with Aido, we will have many happy users who see robots as friendly companions at home.
A lot of these more ambitious AI projects are still some way off. But there’s plenty of fledgling artificial intelligence already running in our phones, computers, and household gadgets—and you may not even be aware of it. Here are five different ways that AI is already able to make your life a little bit easier.
Stumped on what to get your family this year? Rather than divide your budget between all your family members, grab one of these products. They’re sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face whether you guys love to lounge or are always on the go.
Thinking about adding another member to the family? We don’t mean have another kid – just get Aido! This delightful robot can help you with everything from running schedules to manage your home security. Plus, it’s built on an open platform so you can expand Aido’s functionality at any time.
We believe that voice will play a huge role in making robots more useful.
When designing Aido, we wanted users to talk to Aido, and Aido reply back in a conversational & more personal manner:
Aido has a 6 mic array set around a circular base with a dedicated hardware chip for listening to human voice, even in noisy environments. It is the same design that many smart TVs use to allow users to control functions using voice.
Aido uses a leading 3rd party speech engine based on a custom deep neural net architecture for continuous speech recognition.
This allows Aido to listen to commands and parse them into instructions that Aido understands.
Aido can listen to voice commands and reply as well, perfect when you are busy with something else
While there has been great progress in voice recognition and response for smart devices, many of the interactions still come off with the device sounding robotic. Voice is a key part of personality, and we wanted Aido to sound as friendly as it is:
We broke down most commonly used sentences and phrases and created a library for these
We will have a voice artist render these, along with commonly used words
Aido will store a library of the words, phrases, sentences as well as the audio files
Aido will use these snippet in real time to talk back to the user
We expect we can cover most of the daily interactions this way. For the bits that we don’t have voice snippets for, we will use a standard text-to-speech engine.
Aido is a robot to be used at home, and that has its own constraints. Aido would have to navigate around objects like chairs & tables. He would have to change direction easily as it moved around obstacles at home.
Aido balances on an omnidirectional ball – a ballbot design.
Balancing Aido on a single ball means it is easy to spin around a central axis, so turning Aido around is much simpler.
With a single ball base, Aido is able to move out of the way quickly if it bumps into something.
By balancing forces between Aido’s body and the ball, Aido can navigate floors & even carpets.
With software, we can make sure Aido is balanced when at rest or when moving.
Aido is never really still, even when it is standing. It constantly equilibrates by slowly revolving the ball underneath its centre of gravity.
Aido uses a similar mechanism.
Aido counters sudden changes to its balance (a tilt of more than 8 degrees) with a set of retractable legs that spring out from the base to prevent it from keeling over. Push Aido, and the legs will spring out to provide immediate support. Aido will quickly try to stabilize by itself and draw the legs back in.
When Aido is stationary for a long time, it uses the legs to support itself. The legs also offer support when Aido is charging.
Note: The first ballbot was developed in 2006 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the USA. Another ballbot was developed at Tohoku Gakuin University (TGU) in Japan and a third one as a student project 2009 at the University of Adelaide (UA) in Australia.
We wanted Aido’s interface to run Android, as this would immediately give users access to millions of apps on the Google Play Store. However, Android was not powerful enough for what Aido had to tackle at home.
Hence, we decided on a dual OS architecture for Aido.
Aido’s Android frontend runs a Rockwell chip with 512MB RAM. This runs a version of Android Lollipop & a custom UI interface for rich interactions with people.
Aido’s core system runs on two quad-core 1.6GHz processors, each with 1GB DDR RAM. Aido’s core processor runs a headless version of Ubuntu. We have removed unnecessary drivers & modules that Aido doesn’t need. We are calling this version OpenAido.
OpenAido controls elements like mobility, WiFi signal strength & navigation, system guidance, onboard sensors, and projectors. We will be exposing select APIs for this interface, especially around the sensors for users who would like to play around with controls and data.
We will be releasing OpenAido under an open source license so that other robotics solutions can use the same system.
OpenAido and Android communicate over a secure VPN at all times.
If there is a Wi-Fi connection available, both systems connect to it and communicate over this.
If there is no Wi-Fi network available, the Linux system acts as a WiFi hotspot and the Android system connects to it as a client.
In the latter mode, Aido will not be able to communicate with internet-based services, but can still run local media and functionality.
Aido has an inbuilt head mounted interactive projector that lets you engage with your projected content. And it comes with an (optional) HD multimedia projector that is designed for multimedia usage.
The head mounted interactive projector is designed for quick on/off operations. You could ask Aido to do a Google search and show you results. Since the projector has gesture recognition built-in, you can flick to see more results or tap in the air to open a particular link.
The interactive projector is also of great use in the kitchen. You can ask Aido to show you a recipe, and as you’re cooking, use the swipe gesture to look through instructions as you go along.
The interactive projector lets you play quick and fun gesture-based games.
The HD multimedia projector is designed for entertainment buffs. The HD multimedia projector lets you watch media by projecting it on a wall at a distance of up to 3.5m. Since Aido can move around on its own, you can ask Aido to project media near where you sit, or call your friends over and play a movie to enjoy with your drinks.
We know that good battery life is key to enjoying usage of a robot like Aido. No one likes a robot that quickly runs out of power.
Aido has a unique dual-battery design – half lead-acid and half nickel-cadmium, to balance the two requirements of a battery for a device like this – a) it should charge fast and b) it should retain power over long periods of time.
Both battery packs are in hot standby mode. Aido also has a patent-pending power management board that optimizes power consumption.
Aido’s battery should last about 8 hours on regular usage, including 2 hours of mobility.
Aido comes with an optional smart charging dock so that you don’t have to remember to charge it
Aido’s smart dock
When Aido runs low on charge, Aido can automatically detect the charging dock and plug itself in.
Docking Aido isn’t easy, and our team had to work through multiple challenges to get this to work well. Our patent pending approach involves three phases to dock Aido:
Initial ranging is done based on Wi-Fi signal strength tracking and object recognition
Once Aido reaches the room where the smart dock is, he tracks IR beacons from the smart dock. When the IR beacons are locked, they guide Aido towards the smart dock.
The smart dock also has a small laser diode. Closer to the dock, Aido tries locking into this signal. This helps Aido judge the orientation and entry into the dock
Aido’s dock has a specially designed set of two charging rings, one of positive polarity and the other negative
The charging rings are designed in a semi-circular fashion to increase probability of touching Aido’s charging circuits, no matter how Aido rolls into the dock
The charging rings have special circuitry to prevent a short circuit in case it encounters a foreign object
Once Aido rolls into the dock, the charging rings are activated and drive charge to Aido.