"In south east Asia, the air pollution burden of the region is among the highest in the world. In 2016, an estimated 2.4 million premature deaths were attributed to air pollution" (World Health Organisation)
Air pollution is a serious problem caused by ever-increasing fossil fuel combustion from industry and over population. The negative health effects of air pollution are well documented, with its presence increasing the likelihood of respiratory illnesses such as Lung Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Bronchitis, and Asthma (both in the short and long term). Children are particularly vulnerable to the more chronic lung diseases / conditions associated with air pollution exposure due to their respiratory system still being in development.
There is a common misconception that the use of standard protective masks, like with reducing the spread of illness (e.g. COVID-19), will also protect the wearer from toxic particles and chemicals. In actuality, the majority of protective masks people wear do not have enough layers to have any effect in terms of shielding them from inhaling harmful air pollution. Robi’s mission, therefore, was to design an alternative solution that helped protect, detect, and educate people (with a particular target market of south-east Asian children) about the dangers of air pollution in a fun and engaging way.
As with any specific target market group, south-east Asian children have a plethora of cultural / demographic considerations. Throughout the design process I therefore interviewed a range of adults and children that either lived in or originated from south-east Asia in order to generate validated concepts. Moreover, I also conducted multiple workshops with parents and their children, exploring how any possible product prototypes could be improved.
A key insight from my research was the impact of the Kawaii (“cuteness”) cartoon style in Asian childrens’ toys. Consequently, such a style greatly informed the form and final character design of Robi, as well as the interactions and relationships that could be developed between itself and the user over time.
Robi is an air quality pet for children, providing clean air when nearby air pollution is detected at dangerous levels. Robi’s changing mood (as translated through its facial expressions) also teaches children about the different levels of air quality. Finally, Robi and its accompanying app use the concept of gamification to reward children for seeking areas with cleaner air and / or finding ways to reduce air pollution in their vicinity.
Robi measures air pollutants whilst children are on the move, and uses a traffic light system, vibrations, and sounds to warn users when conditions are above a certain Air Quality Index. In high levels of air pollution, the user can breathe through Robi’s internal air filter (which consists of a carbon core with three layers of HEPA filtration).
Designing a complementary app for Robi was important in maximising the user retention of the physical product. Key features of the Robi app include:
‘Robi is a very well thought through product tackling one of the biggest issues of this generation. Nice market research, both aesthetic and technical in design’
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