Friday, April 22, 2016

Why robots are not always the solution

*By Seow Limentrepreneur, successful high tech executive with track records of building businesses, a mom of two boys*

Working mom challenges

The first step towards Povi came out of my life as a busy working mom with a demanding career. It seemed like I was always busy going quickly from one thing to the next and juggling my career with parenting. I always tried to pick up my kids from school each day and tried to switch gears from work issues to my kid lives when I met them. But it was not easy. The stresses of work and chores at home resulted in less than optimal connection with my kids on a daily basis. I was always there for them, encouraging them in their academics and extra-curricular activities but something was missing.

Fast forward two years

My parenting has changed. I have more conversations with my sons everyday. I look for ideas from their world to start meaningful conversations. A simple example, when I saw a child crying at the library, I told them this story: "I was at the library today and I saw a little girl crying. She was lost and looking for her mom. I went to help her. Luckily her mom was looking for her too. What would you do if you were this little girl?" After some contemplation, my older son replied, "I would be really scared too but I wouldn't cry."

Another time it was something I heard on the news:  "On the news today, I heard about this old man with Alzheimer who got lost, and somebody helped him find his way home. Have you helped anyone today?" My son younger replied "Yes! I helped my friends chase bees away by throwing the soccer ball at them."

The stories and scenarios are endless and we all know them. But previously, at the end of the day, when my brain was tired, practicing these open-ended, reflective conversations with my kids was not easy. Now in my avatar as a reformed tiger mom, they love sharing their feelings! They both do it so differently and it amazes me.  I was so happy when my usually reserved teenager said to me, "Mommy, you've changed. Before, you just asked me about my school work. Now you really let me do what I am interested in and support me in it."

My 8 year old boy is more direct. Everyday, he asks, "Mommy, could you talk to me when I am taking my shower?" and at bed time if I haven't started a conversation, he says "Mommy, do you have something you want to talk to me about?" or "Mommy, I have a secret to tell you today." It's at times like this that I know that the habit of thoughtful conversation with my kids for the last 2 years have worked.

Others helped me, I can help others too

As I was looking for a solution to help myself to be a better parent, I realize that many parents are facing the same issues. We are too busy with our jobs and our lives, we are not connecting enough with our kids emotionally. 


How Povi evolved

The journey of finding the right solution or version of Povi to address the problem facing busy parents and hyper digital kids has been quite an exploration. It has taken us two years of multiple iterations of concept, prototype and user testing. 


At first, I was looking for the solution to the 'symptom' of 'dis-engaged kids'

I went to Berkeley Innovation Lab, a club in University of California Berkeley that helps industry do design projects. That's where I met Wendy. For two semesters, together with eight talented students, we idea-ted a design of our prototype 1. 
The problem statement for prototype 1 was: Kids are spending too much time in front of screens. It is affecting their time management, vision and posture. Could we have a solution that encourages kids motivation to develop good habit for to protect their vision and posture. Prototype 1 contains an electronic pet with expression and a Bluetooth earpiece with sensors. 
When we started doing the user research, parents liked the cute little electronic pet, but they didn't like the earpiece because kids would not want to wear it. Parents also mentioned that screen time is affecting the social skills of their kids that they are most concerned about.


Without the earpiece, we had to use Computer vision to observe the child to monitor their habit in front of the screen. We idea-ted to our Prototype 2. We developed the design of Povi Learning Robot that learns about kids habits and interacts with the kids. Povi could encourage them to develop good posture habits. Povi teaches them self regulations and time management and get them to interleave physical activities with screen time. 


However, as we continued to collect feedback from parents, we discovered the following:

1. There are too many gadgets that kids already have today. They are not looking for another gadget to interact with their kids.
2. The target price point of the robot (~$300) were too high for most families to afford.
Fantastic support from Povi's Facebook Groups

Our Facebook group named Emotional Intelligence for Kids have grown to over 3000 members then. This is the community that has been supporting Povi along the way. With active participation in many Facebook groups and talking to psychologists and teachers, reading tons of best selling parenting books on Amazon, and also working with my own children to figure out what's the 'root' of my issue, I realized that self regulation, time management, good vision and posture habits are all trying to correct the 'symptom'. The 'root' of my issues was I need to develop the connection with my own kids beyond "How's school?" "Did you do your homework?". I need to develop that habit that my kids want to share their deeper thoughts with me.

At the same time, with the help of many helpful parents online, I had conducted a successful survey that parents today are most concerned about social emotional development of their kids and they are looking for a better solution in. Our research shows that Social Emotional Learning in schools are showing results. But many parents believe that social emotional learning should happen at home.
So we created a Povi App that sends one question each day to parents. After we have signed up 1000 beta users on our app, I approached each and everyone of them to ask for feedback. Most of them thanked me for the expert designed questions. They found them really useful. However, they mentioned that it was weird to just ask the question, without any context. They found that they were having to come up with context before asking the question. This did not work for them. 

Additionally we learned that quite a few parents are writing their conversations with their kids into the journal but said that it would be much easier if we could just let them record the audio on the app. We found that how each child answers questions was very unique to them and extremely interesting. No wonder parents were telling us that they are learning a lot more about their kids using Povi's App questions.
Despite the positive feedback to the Povi App, we had the "context" issue to resolve. How do we provide the context so that our parents don't have to think hard to ask a thoughtful question? We talked to many psychologists, teachers and counselors. 
We learned a few key things from these final discussions:
1. Kids learn better with a physical object that they can hold and touch. 
2. Kids are much more open to discuss issues and emotions of others sometimes instead of their own issue directly.
3. We need to focus on specific age groups as kids' emotional need vary dramatically by age.
After much brainstorm, we decided on the following:
1. Focus on 3-8 years olds to build the habit of talking with parents about emotions, feelings and problem solving from preschool age. 
2. Context for questions should be built around stories. Not just normal stories but real life stories that kids experience in their daily lives. 
3. The physical form should take the form of hug-gable plush toy because that feels warm.
That's how Povi The Storytelling Buddy with the Emotional Intelligence Content Platform was born.
We take all the features that our users like in the Povi Family Connect app, marry that with a well-designed talking plush toy, and open our platform to content providers who have lots of experience with kids to help us bring more real life stories into parent-child thoughtful conversation.
We have iterated multiple times with the plush toy design; have tested our designs with over 300 parents and kids in person and 500 parents online. See the family of Povi we have made!


The yellow big eye Povi won the user test! And that's how Povi looks like today.

Robot is COOL, but Povi is WARM!
In the beginning, I had thought that the solution would be a really smart robot with computer vision and voice recognition capabilities that would get kids to open up. But a lot of user research and my gut feel made me question whether interacting with another digital device or robot was the solution. No, I want my kids to talk to me, interact with me and connect and share human emotions.

That's why Povi is cuddly, furry and soft and he speaks like another child!

There are still many features we want to add to Povi, our app and the content platform, including messaging to consult expert teachers and psychologists on the platform.

Our plan is to make 5000 Povi and sell them on Kickstarter on May 24th. Please help me make Povi a reality. Support us on Kickstarter.

Written by The Povi Team

P.S.: Seow Lim was joined in her mission for EI by a bunch of us who are inspired by her. She took a personal parenting challenge and actually created a product to help solve this. And what's more this is a problem that is so relevant today where a lot of us parents are so busy and our kids are precariously digitally inclined.

We are seasoned psychologists, counsellors, software engineers, a creative designer, a journalist, a user research specialist and toy industry veterans and we are hoping you will love Povi and Povi's mission as much as we do!

No comments:

Post a Comment