As part of a graduate studio class, Microsoft asked for concepts that demonstrate the value of Conversational User Interface (CUI) to achieve a symbiotic human-computer experience. They wanted us to explore where, how, and in what ways conversational user interfaces could support human-computer symbiosis in the near future. 


I worked in a group of designers and researchers to conduct research for and through design artifacts like journey maps and prototypes. We iteratively designed and tested our conceptual interface through the course of the 2-month long project.


#experience design
#generative research
#evaluative research

#participatory prototyping
#emerging technology
#iterative testing

Research Questions

How can we support the experience of Emergency Medical  Technicians inside ambulances through a conversational user interface (CUI)?


How can a CUI integrate disparate elements within the emergency healthcare network?


How can we improve the front-of-ambulance transport experience by designing an intelligent conversational user interface? 

We looked at possible applications in autonomous vehicles. Interviews with engineers and automobile interface designers on one side, and EMTs on the other, pointed to several points of tension.


Generative Research

We needed to investigate the problem space and look into the pain points. We planned and executed interviews, ridealongs, and workshops to involve EMTs in the design process.


Early data collection activities included

// 13 interviews with EMS personnel, ER nurses, ER doctors, ER patients

// 1 ambulance tour to understand the EMTs'  spaces of work 

// 16 hours of ridealong time in ambulances and stations

// 3 participatory  workshops with EMTs that included the following activities:
Collaging activity to understand their ideal colleagues and benefits or perceived limitations. 

Journey map of a typical call to understand breakpoints and opportunities in current processes.

Flexible modeling to explore how existing tools are used and how audio and visual interactions might be integrated.

Through testing the storyboards, we found that EMTs didn't want to deal with their stress directly but that we would have to alleviate them through other approaches in the design.


Transporting the patient is the main task; not treating the patient in the ambulance.

It is difficult to drive when you are breaking rules intentionally. Audio, visual and haptic indicators that you are breaking rules increases the chances of getting distracted. It is also difficult to anticipate the reaction of other drivers to the lights and siren, further complicating the act of driving. 


Emotional strain is an expected part of the job but it is the unexpected events that cause stress.

EMTs make decisions based on protocols. But it is moments of decision making like route planning after receiving a dispatch call, driving, arriving at the patient's location and driving to the hospital that have a higher likelihood of unanticipated events occurring. This leads to bursts of stress throughout the day.


Decision-making logic needs to be communicated in order to build trust. 

EMTs are confident and take pride in their expertise, including their independent decision-making skills. They want to understand the rationale behind certain decisions,  like the best route to the hospital at a certain time of day, before taking action. They appreciate space for negotiation and conversation before starting the journey.


Knowledge of patterns in frequency, type, and instances of patient care is distributed across a team

Informal conversations at the station are the primary way of finding out what happened on someone else's shift. Learning is informal and happens on the job. Besides ambulance logs which are cumbersome to maintain, there are very little connecting teams of EMTs across locations and shifts.

Project Outcomes

Design Principles

Kara, the conversational agent, embodies a symbiotic relationship through co-action. Through shared logic, memory, and responsibility within an ambulance, Kara helps EMS personnel by managing the unknown risks and stresses they face. 

User Interface



Kara is a concept for an intelligent conversational agent in ambulances. Emergency medical technicians have clear protocols to stabilize patients. The transportation aspect that causes stress. Kara augments the foresight capabilities of medics through multimodal interactions. It doesn't just give suggestions but arrives at a decision through conversation and builds trust. It shares responsibility for the ambulance and manages shift handovers to facilitate conversations across teams. It shares contextually relevant information to prepare EMTs for any situation. Kara helps EMS personnel to achieve the shared goal of effectively transporting patients to the hospital.

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© 2020 by Shruti Aditya Chowdhury