Designing how Kuri uses her heart light to communicate



Kuri is an adorable home robot that I helped build at Mayfield Robotics - a start up backed by Bosch based in Redwood City, California. Kuri is cute, fun and chock full of cutting edge tech. 



HMW help the user understand how Kuri uses her heart light* to communicate?


While Kuri understand commands and questions in English she does not speak or respond in English or any other known language. This was an intentional design decision made by the team to manage expectations around Kuri’s intelligence and capabilities. But it meant finding a different way for her to communicate or provide feedback that was easily understood by her family.

*previously known as chest light


To design a simple architecture for the heart light that allows users to better understand what Kuri is trying to communicate.



The current heart light does not have an architecture and appears random and confusing to a user. It works in isolation, inconsistent with itself and with sound/animations.

To elaborate, Kuri can utilize 3 things to respond or communicate; 

  1. Movement and expressions or Animations - By moving her head and her body and with her expressive eyes Kuri is able to show and communicate through non verbal gestures.

  2. Robot Speak- her Beeps and Boops are not English but have a cadence that can be interpreted with context.

  3. Heartlight - the different colored lights in her chest can be used to indicate what is going. 



The first step here was to define the role her heart light should play in how she communicates. I began by conducting an exploratory exercise together with my colleague, Patrick Evans  using metaphors to define the way the heart light should function. Once we had a few approaches, we got together to review and pick the best approach.


We liked two directions, the heart light as a notifier and the heart light light as a bracket. I developed both one

step further and detailed them and ran some scenarios on them to test the limitations of the directions and how they held up. As an outcome of this, a decision was made to view the chest light as a supporting tool. It would always be used in tandem with animation and sound, if at all. This exercise formed the base on which I developed the communication architecture.


The guiding principle was to keep it simple, so users could get what Kuri was trying to say. We needed to be able to use this as a system to classify all existing and to be created types of communication from Kuri.


The Comms IA creates two major classes of communication Kuri Initiated - "Kuri wants my attention to tell me something" and User Initiated "I want something from Kuri". User initiated comms are further sub divided into Indeterminate response (Kuri is working on it), Determinate response (Kuri knows the answer) and Teleop (Someone is controlling Kuri).


Character Moments live on the edge of the Comms IA. This is when Kuri uses her heart light to express her personality and the user may or may not be paying attention. Keeping the main IA simple and consistent, helps create space around the character moments so the user is able to identify that "this is something else.."


Layered over the comms IA, is valence. Valence describes positive, neutral or negative reactions and is represented by a color.


A transition state is a heart light state that helps make smooth transition from one heart light to the next.For example an indeterminate response followed by a determinate response - I am thinking, I know. Having this in place makes sure the transition is seamless and not jarring to the user.



The heart light is perfectly in sync with kuri expressions and voice and used only when necessary. A key decision was made regarding Kuri in the interim, where any time she initiated communication it would only be to tell the user something was wrong. So the Kuri initiated class was renamed - Error states. Moment Capture was reassigned as a stand alone special case that lived outside the architecture.


Intentionally picked colors for the LED heart light rig to represent and communicate positive, neutral, negative and teleop valence clearly. Teleop valence in particular presented a challenge, while we definitely needed the users attention to let them know Kuri was being controlled we did not want to alarm them. Purple was chosen as it was seen as being more active than blue but less alarmist than red.


I created a matrix template that we could continue to use in classifying new communications and reactions from Kuri on the Comms IA.

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