EXPANDING ROBOT VACUUMS' CAPABILITIES

With industry partner iRobot

Project Brief

For a design strategy course, our graduate cohort partnered with iRobot under a confidentiality agreement. Of four student teams, our team, consisting of five students, was asked to explore ways to extend the uses of the camera technology used on iRobot's robot vacuum, Roomba, by identifying novel uses for the camera, useful ways to combine the camera with other sensors, and/or new market spaces the camera could help iRobot enter. iRobot specifically requested we present a 5-to-7-year strategic plan with this technology in mind. We were given design constraints concerning the robots' size and shape, but were otherwise encouraged to explore all design directions. 

Overview

Our team developed a three-tiered strategy we called "rHome," pronounced "roam." Each tier of the strategy was increasingly complex, with the first step designed to be ready for market introduction within 6 months and the last intended for roll-out in 5-7 years. rHome extended the reach of iRobot in the IoT marketplace and created value for the company by entering a market whitespace. Understanding our users as fully as possible required us to identify and learn from robot vacuum users as well as users in analogous markets and across the spectrum of IoT devices.

Roles I Played

  • ​Conducted contextual interviews and observations

  • Conducted secondary market research

  • Created frameworks to visualize research findings

  • Generated actionable insights

  • Formally presented insights and design strategy to clients at iRobot HQ

Research

Though we began trying to understand the robot vacuum marketplace by speaking with and observing robot vacuum users, we quickly realized that in so doing we were limiting ourselves to iRobot's current market rather than understanding their potential market. Given our prompt to explore uses for camera technology and other sensors, we began to conduct research with users across a wide array of IoT devices - ranging from non-users to users who tried to make their homes as "smart" as possible. 

We developed and distributed online tools that, first and foremost, allowed us to gather data about what kinds of IoT devices were popular among robot vacuum users, but also helped us recruit additional participants. 

Given the technical nature of the prompt, we also conducted secondary research regarding market trends and projections in order to create a strategy that would be supported by data and would grow and evolve with the market over time.

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Understanding

In discussing the research we had conducted, our team found that quotations, observations, and secondary research findings were naturally falling into distinct groupings. We largely allowed those groupings to shape our insights, integrating the technical information from secondary research with user experiences from our primary research. Themes of groupings included:

  • Concerns about the home while away

  • Experiences, or lack thereof, with Roomba

  • Cleaning habits

  • Use of other IoT devices in the home

 

Midway through the project, our graduate cohort conducted a design review during which students were able to ask questions and do a butterfly test of each of the four team's most salient insights. Following this exercise, our team returned to the insights we had generated and reevaluated them for impact and novelty.

Iterations

To generate concepts, our team held multiple brainstorming sessions, both within our team as well as with other members of our cohort. We had narrowed our insights down to three key areas, and at first focused on brainstorming within these discrete boxes to ensure we were addressing all necessary components. Using these discrete concepts as starting blocks, we were able to expand upon our most compelling ideas and begin to develop incremental strategies - what could happen one year from now? Three years? Five years? Components from each of these strategies were later combined to become the tiers of our overall strategy

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Solution

Our team delivered a three-step strategy for iRobot designed to implemented over the course of 5-7 years. The strategy centered around leveraging the mobility of robot vacuums as the key differentiating factor between these and other IoT devices. We focused on using the existing camera technology in such a way that it would have value even while the robot was not cleaning. Through our strategy, we were able to point iRobot towards a whitespace in the market which would allow them to reach users who might otherwise not be interested in having a robot vacuum. Details of this project's final outcomes are currently confidential, so details have been removed from the diagram pictured at left to comply with the agreement.