Domestic bot aka ButlerCat


The Robot University project is coming along, with progress on all robot designs. This is the domestic robot. The housekeeper of the robots, which will challenge the idea of robots being subservient to humans.

This image shows the refinement process of the bottom left silhouette in my previous thumbnail exploration.

I really liked the idea of creating a robot that was animalist and cute. The domestic robots are effectively slaves, and since people expect their pets to love them unconditionally I thought designing the robot like a pet would give it some interesting depth to explore. We wouldn’t make a slave in our own image, but it’s going to be hanging out in your home when you are and aren’t there. That’s a very personal space! You need to trust it. It needs to be relatable, and maybe even vulnerable. So I thought why not make it look like a cat? Or some other cute animal.

The result looks like super advanced Japanese-derived tech. Like the evolution of a Tamagotchi, but now it’s taking care of you, instead of the other way around.

The final row includes some accessories, after Christy and Paul suggested giving it butler cues as well, like a bowtie or collar. It was tough to add bits without spoiling the slick, minimal stylings, but we’ve ended up running with option F, a very Hello Kitty reminiscent design. Our writer, Christy, was excited about adding the stereotyped gender you’d get from a pink bow, and it certainly raises some interesting questions.

Do you think people will always assign a gender to artificial intelligence?

How would it affect our interactions?

Demolition robot

Fleshing out the demolition bot. The interactions require it to have at least 5 weapons. These designs includes one or multiple in the chest compartments.

Below are a ton of thumbnails fleshing out different parts, pushing ever closer to a final design.

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Getting started with the concept art

I’ve been brought on to design the robots, the scene, and generally guide the look and feel. I’m pretty pumped to be involved in any opportunity to design robots, and will also be blogging my artventures on Tumblr.

Here’s the general layout we’re shooting for, with some WIP robots:



On the left will be a clunky, mismatched robot.

The middle is home to a partially constructed demolition robot.

The floating droid on the right is a futuristic domestic assistant.

Here are some initial thumbnails for each:

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First meet with Simon Boxer


Yesterday, on the 10th of July, this digital writing residency officially started. Today I met with the visual artist on the project, Simon Boxer, to talk ideas. It was a great chat, riffing off ideas about the robots and the nature of human-robot interaction. We spoke about people’s fears with robots – being wiped out by them, and Simon added being replaced at work by them.

We spoke about constraints, and how due to the limited time I’ve chosen to create 3 robot types that are repeated or cloned. So six robots in total. We can reskin the robots, and I can alter the UI elements. We could also do gender differences (how would that work with robots?). I like the idea of robot twins, not clones. “We’re twins, not clones!” So brother and sister maybe.

There are twelve multi-touch panels, and so we spoke about the spacing across the panels. It won’t be one every second panel for instance. Originally I had planned to have the robot types separated (1,2,3, and then 1,2,3). But in order to help with the background illustration, it is better to have the robot types close to each other. That way they can have their own *space*. The background illustration is vitally important – as it needs to have strong environmental storytelling. This project is all about concentrated storytelling: getting across lots with little.

The above sketch is a photo of my own scribbly notes during our conversation. Simon drew better ones. The section on the top left is about my thoughts on utilising people’s spatial navigation bias to support the robot experience. The *wise* robots will have bodies that look thin and old robot pathetic. Not cool tech. If we put the giant military robots in the center, then they will be the visual draw card. So then put the domestic robot with lots of cool gadgets and arms on the left, then on the right (the side the visitor enters the space) the pathetic wise robots will be. This means they will naturally be walked past, just as they are passed over because of their appearance. So appearance and spatial positioning working together to get people thinking less of these robots more than the others.