When Cobalt first came to us, our biggest strategic task was to filter the abilities of this autonomous technology to define its core interaction points. The industrial design, user experience, and Cobalt identity all had to reinforce a collaborative and friendly role for the robot in an office. We looked to the limitations of the traditional office security guard, as well as the other gaps in which a robot could support in the workplace.
For one, the security guard’s core job is simply to ‘Observe and Report’ - witness things as they happen and create a report on it. Security guards should not put themselves in dangerous situations, nor do they have the ability to know everything that is happening in an office. This is where a robot can be truly effective. With the right sensing abilities, a robot can detect anything happening that is out of the ordinary. The Cobalt robot doesn’t actually replace the job of a human being. It has a screened ‘face’ in which an employee of Cobalt working from a central office appears. What’s different is that this remote employee can provide information, interact with people and investigate the surroundings without putting themselves in danger. This also provides a point of interaction for concierge-like services and facilities management, as well as a platform that can grow with the needs of the workplace.
Creating the right form for Cobalt is crucial to its success. As a service for security and concierge it becomes part of an office culture. This balance between approachability and discretion became a thematic challenge throughout the design process. We decided that the robot should not adopt a humanoid personality. Instead, it should aesthetically align with the furniture and décor of the office environment. The Cobalt robot’s semi-cylindrical self-driving mechanism, sensors and cameras are covered by a tensile fabric skirt. This helps maximize the access and usability of the internal technologies, creates airflow to prevent overheating, and conveys a soft and friendly persona. The fabric stretches and attaches to its lower bumper and upper display area making it easy to remove for repairs. The CNC aluminum display area contrasts with the softness of the fabric and groups interaction functions through the screen, buttons and office badge scanners. The Cobalt body flares outwardly toward its base providing the necessary wheelbase and stability. Its height is dictated by the average cubicle, ensuring it performs in both traditional and open plan office environments.
For safety purposes, and to maximize functionality, the robot uses an array of cameras – from 360° and depth cameras, infrared, ultrasonic and includes smoke detectors. Cobalt fluidly moves around a space and can also detect the abnormalities – an open window, a loud noise, a gas leak, or an after-hours intruder. The robot will head into the situation and begin recording, prompting a human on the screen when necessary. A badge scanner, both long distance and under the screen, is built in and provides an interaction point with employees. Beyond safety, Cobalt aims to provide concierge-like information, including giving directions to visitors and personnel.
The central motif of the Cobalt brand identity is around the balance of approachability and discretion, carried across from the design of the product. The logo highlights the ‘CO’ of Cobalt, as the collaboration between human and robot (co-robot) is core to the business. Fluid, continuous motion guided the design of the letterform in the logo. The delicate custom font is used in contrast to the traditional heaviness of robot companies. Cobalt stone and cobalt deep blue are the core brand colors, with the possibility to customize fabric colors to match interior décor and furniture.
International Design Awards
- Gold - Cobalt, Product Design, 2017