Service-Robot Care-O-bot 4. The archetype of a service robot for tomorrow, developed and designed in close cooperation between Fraunhofer institute and Phoenix Design. Not only in the care sector does automation run its course. Routine chores in the private as in the public sector can be taken over by this android.
Archetype of a service robot Care-O-bot 4
The friendly and likable service robot Care-O-bot 4 was developed and designed in close cooperation between the Fraunhofer institute (IPA Robot Systems) and Phoenix Design, and it also made the jury of the Red Dot Award 2015 enthusiastic. Red Dot: Best of the Best-Award is being awarded for groundbreaking design and is considered the most prominent award in the Red Dot Award: Product Design category. Only the best products of each category are honoured by this award. Out of nearly 5,000 submissions, only 81 products from 31 categories received this coveted quality seal – i.e. a mere 1.6 per cent. The panel of jurors gave the following for selecting the service robot: “The Care-O-bot 4 is an expression of a new understanding of how a robot can interact with its environment. Equipped with an intelligent interface, it possesses human-like qualities which go beyond imitation and which endow the robot with independence. Its formal language as well as its gestures and facial expression have exerted a strong emotional appeal on all who have come into contact with it. Designed with softly rounded corners and smooth proportions, this robot is fascinating in its compliant friendliness.”
In designing and developing this archetypal service robot, Phoenix Design, thanks to the Fraunhofer Institute Stuttgart, is for the first time part of a development community of research institutions and universities around the globe. Like its predecessors, Care-O-bot 4 is no finite and finished robot, but an extendable research platform. The IPA wants as many scientists as possible to use the system from Stuttgart in order to continually expand its deployment options. “We want to build a community of developers”, says Dr. Ulrich Reiser. The predecessor model Care-O-bot 3 worked together with ten research institutions and universties around the globe, and Care-O-bot 4 is also set on continuous learning.
Service robots are part of everyday life in many industries even today. Our life changes, tedious routine chores in private and public places can be handed over. After the sensational ascent of the personal computer (PC), soon the personal robot (PR) will add to our living and working environments. The “Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung” IPA (Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation) has been conducting research since 1998 in order to create a service robot to be deployed in private and public places. This also comprises service and entertainment in the living and working environment as well as in hotels, care facilities and clinics. The architecture of the future will be barrier-free, and for Care-O-bot 4, this is a great advantage, since it will be able to move about freely in such an environment.
Felicitous symbiosis of design and engineering. While the predecessors placed their focus more on basics like object recognition or safe navgiation, now an important step towards commercialisation has been made. Phoenix Design Stuttgart, the globally active and leading design studio for brand-typical and user-oriented formal language, analysed the gentleman for tomorrow. The interaction of man and machine as well as intercultural disciplines have played an important role in designing this robot. And again it is true: First impressions count. The result: a sensation. “Care-O-bot 4 is the felicitous symbiosis of design and engineering, of function and emotion, and it immediately seduces the user to start interaction”, says Andreas Haug, Phoenix Design Managing Partner. The fourth generation of Care-O-bot is more agile, more versatile and more charming.
Unique mobility. Its patented joints at neck and hip provide the gentleman Care-O-bot 4 with a unique degree of mobility and an elegant look-and-feel. When it bends down, it keeps its equilibrium at all times: in bowing, part of the body moves towards the back, thus balancing the weight. Caro-O-bot 4 even has a secure stand when carrying a load on its extended arm. Barrier-free also holds true for the robot – a matter of course in public buildings today.
In the mood for dialogue. With its slim silhouette, the two arms mounted at the sides and its kind of head it strikes a figurative pose. “Care-O-bot has a friendly and smart aura – it makes people curious and supports them in their interaction”, says the responsible IPA group head, Dr. Ulrich Reiser. “Among other things, Phoenix Design faced the challenge to give the robot a shape which gets people in the mood to enter into a dialogue, and which thanks to its timeless design will be a natural part of a modern working environment”, says Ralf Kittmann, leading designer in this Phoenix Design project.
Cost-optimised solutions. IPA used to concentrate on deploying service robots exclusively in care facilities. The deployment was intended to relieve the care personnel of standard chores, thus opening a larger time window for the human and personal care of patients. The fourth Care-O-bot generation however will be even more versatile for the service sector. Its modular construction allows a great variety of configurations. So it can have only one arm or even leave off both arms. The sophisticated neck and hip joints as well as many of the sensors are optional too. If the purpose is e.g. serving drinks, one hand could be replaced by a tray. It is even possible to only use the mobile base as a serving and transport trolley. The precise finetuning to the respective tasks creates cost-optimised solutions.
Users first. The IPA developers and the Phoenix Design designers have placed great emphasis on easy handling. After all, users will only be prepared to have a robot help them if they can handle it without any problems. Via the easily accessible interaction surface at the head, Care-O-bot 4 can be operated intuitively both when sitting and standing up. It is a matter of course that your can also enter into a dialogue by means of words or hand movements – cameras and microphones allow for recognising speech, persons and gestures. During this communication, the robot clearly indicates by means of movements like nodding or shaking its head, whether it has taken in the message or not. There’s also an LED ring built into the torso of Care-O-bot 4, as well as a laser pointer in its hand, which serve to exchange information.
Statement: Andreas Haug, Managing Partner, Phoenix Design, Stuttgart
What do you particularly like about Care-O-bot?
“Care-O-bot is a new archetypal robot. It is the felicitous symbiosis of design and engineering, of function and emotion, and it immediately seduces the user to start interaction. The fourth generation of Care-O-bots is not only more agile, more versatile and more charming – it is a matter of course that your can also enter into a dialogue by means of words or hand movements – cameras and microphones allow for recognising speech, persons and gestures.
Do you follow a particular design approach?
“With a consistent focus on the user and on what’s characteristic for the brand we develop entire product portfolios. Adapted to user needs, to the self-explanatory interaction with the product. We let complexity disappear, and that’s fascinating. It is always our goal to create situations where users can experience the indentity of the brand or the product, like in the case of Care-O-bot 4, in way that truly touches them.”
How do you define quality / design quality?
“Function, emotion, benefit – generally speaking: a good product is a product that answers a need and is able to fulfil the needs of people over a long period of time. As designers, we are faced with the challenge to recognise such needs at an early stage and to create a product that answers them. Of course, our designs may also call forth needs which did not explicitly exist before, but which are then regarded by the users as an improvement of their quality of life. Generally speaking, you can say: a good and successful product is reliable, offers long-term use, is ergonomic, high-quality, innovative, and it makes people enthusiastic right away.”
Where do you see the big challenges in your industry?
“Promoting product experiences and recognising user needs, and to take these as the basis on which to design interaction. This includes a consistent design, both on the inside and the outside, and to design state-of-the-art technology in such a way that it is easy to use intuitively; combining the physical and the digital is already a vitally important design task.”
Which trends in particular are influencing design right now?
“Globalisation and the growth of brand manufacturers; internet culture and digitisation, continued development of information technology, sensor technology and robotics; intelligent infrastructures and the merging of man and machine; climate change and ecologisation play a big role as well as the leaps and bounds of innovation and progress in nanotechnology and bionics.”