Movement Design.

Designing Robots For Everyday Use. 2016-

Question: How can social objects engage us in new but familiar ways?

Expressive movement is created through the dynamism and interplay of multiple motors, not through having a face or appearing humanlike.

Core Challenge: Designing an open source platform that people from fields Social Science, Mechanical Engineering or Computer Science can engage with to perform research in the field of HRI.

The ways in which robots get social reactions from people make them unique. They are no longer just a system or a product, but something more. More than a piece of furniture but less than an animal, it is a whole new category of product that technologists and researchers have been trying to make makestream for 30+ years.

Current robots commmonly used in HRI research.

My role in a research lab means I design the robots that helps shape the fields research findings. These research findings influence and inform what the industry invests in. 

Moodboard for my new robot design.

This is a somewhat unique role and so I’d like to dig deeper than the surface level design explorations in which we simply make humanoid devices. I want to really approach this as a design problem, not just a research one.

Exploratory sketches. Quickly ideating and iterating on possible ideas for the rough physical form.

Some aspects of designing these devices require some foundational design skills such as sketching. But to really bring something to life you need to take this iterative approach into designing its movements. This loop of paper and animation is key to developing the two harmoniously, rather than attaching one to the other.

Animation Sketches. Sketches were used to explore the possible motions of a physical design before physically prototyping.

How to explore, test and design expressive movements for physically actuated objects such as robots is still an unsolved problem. With a background in industrial and interaction design I believe I have the skills to contribute meaningfully to this broader conversation and have been developing new processes. These are processes and methods that I’m testing in my own work (above), and as I teach undergraduate and graduate level courses at Cornell.

Early stage prototype with screen and thermal printer. Primary movement (motors) can be designed carefully on paper and in animation, but secondary movement (printer paper) requires prototypes to be build.

How best to iterate and prototype through motion concepts is important for unlocking the exploratory and iterative nature that I think underpins good design. Often I employ a mixture of sketching, physical prototyping and 3d animation. Sketching allows me to quickly move things around the page and iterate fast. The physical prototyping I do often uses Arduino, Raspberry Pi's and various servo/stepper motor setups. I think this is the best way of testing how a movement 'feels' to a person. 3D animation using tools such as After Effects and Cinema 4D/Maya allows the testing of the minutia of movement, which is often the difference in something moving 'happily' or 'excitedly' or 'aggressively'.

Current prototype as of December 2017. Robot is currently being used in research into how to support language learning and how its actions affect the interactions people have with one another.

One end of my work is a social robot platform to be used across fields of language learning, management science, haptics and social science. This work is for the research lab I work in at Cornell, RIGlab.

There are also many unique challenges to designing these devices like sound and movement. Another part of this is work from Stanford which resulted in the paper published in a top journal (IMWUT/Ubicomp). The paper proposes new methods on how designers can approach design expressive movement into products.

See more details about this project here

Character Actor: Design And Evaluation Of Expressive Robot Car Seat Motion
H. Tennent, D. Moore, W. Ju. Published at IMWUT December 2017.

Part of this process I have been developing is being published in the above paper “Character Actor: Design and Evaluation Of Expressive Robot Car Seat Motion” and becomes part of a scientific body of knowledge that is actively shaping how these devices are being design and built in industry, schools and research labs.

© Hamish Tennent 2017