Agricultural robot controller

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As part of a UX-Kickstart I helped JOZ to create a product vision and development strategy for their agricultural robot products.

I’m interested in technology that is being used in the agricultural domain: especially in livestock. Being married into a farmers family might have something to do with that. So, when I was asked to do a workshop with JOZ, a company that is well known for slurry handling appliances, I didn’t had to think twice. They were working on a robot that cleaned slurry from the barn floor. Having the robot somehow running, an interface for its operation (routing and planning) was needed. After the first talks I had with them, all my notes pointed into product development strategy; they didn’t need an interface most, they needed a plan or a strategy for their line of robotic products. I decided to help them kick-start a discussion and journey on that by creating a product future-outlook for them.

Based on this discussion in 2018, multiple projects have taken place. It’s nice to see the design philosophy of the outlook still is in tact.

Emphasise

As mentioned before, I’m familiar with the dairy farm operations. Literally. That helped me quite much when connecting/talking to farmers about their desires and considerations of having robots operating in their barns. To be able to understand what such a product requires, you need to understand the context it is being used in.

Next to the farmers, the products by JOZ have another important user group: technicians or installation engineers that install or service their products. Luckily I was able to observe and talk to an engineer that demonstrated his work at a test site.

From the management of JOZ I learned their plans and worries for the near and longtime future.

All my handwritten notes had a few circled keywords on them: ‘strategy’, ‘alignment’ and ‘enthusiastic’. I noticed that an overall (company wide) product alignment and agreement was missing from my observations and talks. But wow, these people were on a mission. As a consultant I see a lot of enthusiastic and driven minds, but these guys are a one off a kind! Being inspired by them, I started to think of how to help them at best.

Software as part of the product eco system

When multiple devices are combined into an operational system, its per device operation and further development becomes more complex and time consuming. Combining the products into a single communication platform helps to simplify the use and its (software)product development. Based on observations at dairy farms and interviews with the R&D staff, a common question surfaced: “How to align (near) future product developments when more products join the eco system?”

Before alignment is possible, a clear goal or outlook and a strategy or mission is needed to have an anchor point. Therefore I conducted desk research into their products and roadmaps. Based on all the information I could retrieve, I’ve created a moonshot or future-outlook for their robotic product line. Its purpose was to start an internal discussion on the long term product development.

My presentation of the future-outlook raised a lot of eyebrows and many questions. I was pleased to see a constructive discussion was formed where new ideas were shared and valued. I got all I was hoping for. From this point it was up to the company to modify their product vision that would give them guidance for future developments.

Bert de Weerd user experience designer