Recycle Bot

I’m working on a toy project with a Northeastern student to get us both more experience with UX.

What is it?

The student I’m working with, Radhika Sundararaman, came up with the idea of a robot that would carry recycling bins from someone’s home to the dropoff point. This is most relevant for people who live in condo associations and other larger housing complexes with the dropoff for trash and recycling at some distance from their homes.


We expect the main users to be folks who are unable to walk, unsteady on their feet, or do not have the strength to carry a bin. We imagine this to be relevant for older adults and differenlty-abled folks.

In addition, we think there is a market here for folks who are too busy or too forgetful to get their trash out regularly.

What are we looking into?

Our focus for this project is the user interface.



We have done quick interviews of a few different people, and came up with 5 personas.

These include an older adult couple, a single mom with two kids who works full-time, another mom with three kids whose husband is typically away on business, an office manager, and one adult of three whose household often forgets to bring out the recycling.

While exploring the personas, we identified a need for a website, a mobile app, and buttons on the robot itself.

Each persona includes important information about the context of each person’s trash situation. Some of the more relevant points include:

How do they find out about changes in trash pickup?

  • Poster in the room with the mail
  • Voicemail
  • Email
  • Paper schedule mailed out every year

How far are they from the pickup location?

  • 500 feet
  • Up a large hill
  • On the curb next to the stairs leaving the house

How much trash do they usually create?

  • Minimal
  • Lots — small child still using diapers

What sorts of difficulties do they run into?

  • not home on trash dropoff day
  • too busy
  • Forgetful

Tasks & Scenarios

During our task and scenario analysis session, we decided that one of the 5 isn’t a user we will focus on at this time, and another was covered pretty well by the first three users. We used sticky notes and a handy empty wall to organize our thoughts and discussion.

We started the process by writing down what users would do in the case where there were no errors. We made notes of where errors might occur, and things we might like to include as options in the future.

Who are we talking about? What are the main points to keep in mind? How might they want to interact? What are the goals?
The actions that users might need to do, problems they might run into, and ways we might handle those problems. Also a short list of things to keep in mind for the future.

We translated those into step-by-step descriptions of how a user would do their ideal actions with our software. Finally, we investigated those situations where things didn’t work out quite right for one reason or another, and explored how that might translate to our software.

What are the situations for ‘things working as expected’? What do we need to have for settings and configurations?

Once we had gotten to a point where we felt ready to start sketching, we also translated our sticky notes to a digital format for greater ease of access and reference. We do not have a centralized location in an office building to leave them, so this is the next best thing.

What are we not doing?

We will not be creating the robot itself, as this project is meant to complete before Radhika returns to school in September. Neither of us has the technical expertise to focus on construction, and my experience with robots strongly suggests that this is not a simple problem to solve.

We are assuming a few things about the robot as part of our design process:

  • It will not be able to handle stairs
  • It has a weight limit on how much it can carry
  • It cannot pick things up

Next steps

Our next steps are to start sketching our ideas and discuss what we have each sketched. This will allow us to get onto the same page about our ideas, and come up with more effective and useful interfaces as a result of the exploration we will do.