An SMS carpool chatbot that connects folks without transportation in rural
areas to volunteer drivers.

Team Hannah Johnson, Mike Cardarelli, Saransh Solanki
Duration 1 week

The MHCI+D program at UW kicks off the autumn quarter with Immersion Studio, a week long design sprint completed by teams of three. It was an intense and fun introduction into what will be a packed year for Cohort 6!

The Challenge

We developed a design response to these questions through the lens of
rural communities, a uniting context with personal significance for all
team members.

Formative Research Methods

Secondary Research

  • Computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW)
  • Civic engagement issues in rural communities
  • Internet access in rural America

Primary Research

Research Insights

  • Transportation is a main inhibitor of civic engagement in rural areas.
  • Civic engagement often serves as a retirement role for aging Americans.
  • Older people often need support in order to learn new technologies.
  • The majority of Americans who lack broadband internet access reside in rural communities.

Keeping these points in mind, we developed a How Might We statement to help us frame the rest of our design activities.

How might we ensure folks without transportation in rural areas can get involved in their communities?

Ideation

If this had been a ten week project instead of a one week project, we may have more strongly considered the Election Day Carpool concept. However, we chose to move forward with the Carpool Chatbot as our final design concept for the following reasons:

  • Older residents wouldn’t have to learn new technology
  • Accessible for communities that lack internet access
  • Best fit for our project time constraint

We decided to name our Carpool Chatbot Milaap, which is an urdu word meaning harmony and ‘good mutual understanding.’

Prototyping

Conversation Tree

Purple boxes denote chatbot responses, orange boxes denote user responses

Testing and Iterating our Prototype

For each test, we provided a high level explanation of the service and then handed participants a phone opened to a blank text message addressed
to Milaap.

Testing our concept using this method revealed pitfalls in our conversation flows. With each test, we iterated our conversation tree for improved experience. Below is a video walkthrough of the final Milaap prototype.

Reflection

Future Work

  • Explore use of Natural Language Processing (NLP): Our final Milaap prototype uses a system of numerical user input such as “Enter 1 if need a ride, or 2 if you want to drive.” It would be interesting to develop a prototype that hypothetically uses NLP to create a more conversational experience. I’d like to see if our older users would prefer this version, as it would likely feel more natural to learn.
  • Consider how Milaap could scale when areas get broadband: Milaap could effectively serve communities without high speed internet access. However, toward the end of our project we began to wonder what would happen to this service when those areas inevitably do receive better internet. This would be an interesting topic to explore in the future.

Takeaways

  • Embrace ambiguity: During this project I learned that I must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a designer, I hope to further trust the human-centered design process when confronted with inevitable ambiguity because it allows for unhindered creative exploration and unexpected findings!

UX Designer, CS Graduate

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