Design with code
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Design with code

BOB — Your Virtual Tool Assistant

Tools are one of the earliest and greatest inventions by man. The thought of creating objects, mechanisms and entire systems to enable humans to carry out tasks or simplify them was an essential stepping stone to innovation and where we currently stand today.

But every so often, we find ourselves struggling to understand the very tools that were made specifically to make our lives easier. From a simple hammer to a “complex” laser cutter, the probability of wanting to use such tools but being unable to due to lack of knowledge is very high.

In our campus, Srishti N5, we identified a common space where we face the same issue of feeling handicapped- the workshop. To comply with the college’s holistic approach of learning, almost every student ends up having to deal and interact with the tools in the workshop, irrespective of their hobbies or the courses chosen. Not everyone has the inclination towards grasping mechanisms or simply knowing what to pick up in this working space or knowing how to use it. Majority of students, especially those setting foot in the workshop for the first time, need guidance in executing even the simplest of tasks. This is where most people resort to approaching the faculty or assistants in the workshop for guidance, the unavailability of whom creates a large gap between the students and their potential.

Keeping in mind the guidelines of the assignment and the problem at hand, we decided to design a conversational agent that would efficiently guide the user through their affairs at the workshop.

Our first attempt at synthesizing this idea was drawing out the functions of our interface and representing the same through a communicative video using the Wizard of Oz technique. This video consisted of a snippet of our interface wherein a user doesn’t know how to use a particular tool in the workshop (namely, the table clamp) and hence resorts to the assistance our app has to offer.

(link : https://vimeo.com/user87937778/review/282553409/c94f04b312 )

Initially, we inclined towards Augmented Reality for solving the problem and ensuring safer operation and efficient utilization of tools and equipment in the workshop. Our concept of making available a workshop tool guide through AR would not only accomplish the aforementioned requirements but also grant students the autonomy to discover and explore the workshop for themselves.

Our project aimed at achieving this by creating an interface through which a user could interact with their environment via their handheld devices. The screens on their phones would be the mode by which they would receive ‘tangible feedback’ that would educate and guide them through the process of handling the myriad tools and equipment that the workshop makes available to us. By projecting a series of graphics on the screen, the students could learn what their tool is, its components and their functions, its scope as well as safety precautions that need to be adhered to.

After displaying our initial iteration, we received substantial and beneficial feedback that allowed us to re-examine our project, break it down and look at it from multiple angles.Some of the feedback that we received included:

· Allowing a user to navigate between information regarding several tools since different kinds of tools work in tandem in order to execute any task

· Making available to the user a sort of precautionary guide along with the tutorial since tools of such kind can often be dangerous or harmful to the user if they do not know how to use it right

· Supervising the user (i.e. ensuring that the user is wearing the appropriate clothing/footwear and is the taking necessary precautions before starting any task in the space)

· Making more information available to the user in terms of materials that can be used with/for/by the tool

· Making the entire interface more conversational in nature, thus increasing the level of comfort of the user by giving them the impression that they are conversing with a workshop assistant

· Not delving too deeply into all tools as that would be a highly tedious and time consuming task (considering the duration of the studio) for the designer and would compromise the quality of the project in the bigger picture, such level of emphasis and intricacy also makes it harder or the user to grasp and navigate through the interface; simplicity is key in information dispersal

Over the course of this studio, we experimented with the coding platform Python, in which we practised using statements, loops, functions, etc. Gaining enough skill to be able to create a two-way conversation between man and machine. We started out by laying down a basic set of statements and expected responses by the user (using IF, ELIF, ELSE statements).

Bringing together a part of the initial idea of creating an instructional interface and taking into consideration the feedback we received, we worked on our rudimentary set of IF statements to ultimately build a conversational interface — BOB, the virtual tool assistant.

Screen-flow Sketch 1

Our current project, works on a system of simple statements and questions posed by BOB to which the user’s responses are recorded and used to understand their intention and expectation from the virtual assistant which ultimately allows BOB to guide the user through their experience in the workshop. Beginning with a simple — “Hi! I’m BOB, your workshop assistant. What would you like me to call you?”, this interface is able to capture the response of the user’s name, which is used throughout the conversation. BOB then steps in as a supervisory agent wherein he advises the user regarding their attire and the necessary precautions that must be undertaken before starting any project at the workshop. Once the user agrees to being present in the workshop and up to standard with their clothing and safety, they proceed to identifying and selecting the tool they wish learn to about from the displayed list. On picking the tool of their choice, the user proceeds by select whether he/she would like to

Screen-flow sketch 2

1) Know how to use the tool

2) Be informed about the ideal materials that can be used with/for/by the tool

3)Be aware of the cautionary steps to be taken when using the toolOn selecting any of the 3 options, the user will receive appropriate information accordingly. BOB then goes on to enquire whether the user is looking for any further assistance. This permits the user to either choose another learning option of the previously selected tool, or learn about an entirely different tool if they wish to. This continues until the user is satisfied and does not require any more guidance from BOB, which leads to the end of the conversation — “I hope you got what you were looking for. It was nice working with you, (user’s name)”.

The virtual assistant BOB serves as a tool to understand tools, ensuring the users safety while guiding and educating them through their working process in the workshop. We have accomplished our aim of creating an interface to work with and for students in the workshop using this Python based conversational agent.

Here’s a peak into BOB:

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Katharine Bernard

Katharine Bernard

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