Customer Spotlight6 min read

Meta Case Study on Robotics Prototyping

Explore how ProtoPie shapes the user experience of Meta's robotics systems.

Iulia Sorodoc
Iulia Sorodoc, Product Marketing ManagerJanuary 10, 2024
meta robotics team webinar speaker profile picture

In the rapidly advancing field of robotics, combining state-of-the-art technology with user-centered design is essential. When it comes to creating effective robots, high-fidelity prototyping is also crucial as it allows designers to test and refine their designs in a real-world context, ensuring that the final product meets the users’ needs.

During the Robotics UX Prototyping at Meta webinar, Ryan Olson, a product design engineer in Meta's Infrastructure Data Center Robotics team, shed light on how ProtoPie significantly shapes the user experience of Meta's robotics systems.

This article will discuss the challenges, methodologies, and real-world applications related to robotics UX prototyping at Meta. To revisit the helpful insights shared by Ryan, you can watch the webinar recording linked below.


  1. Data Center Robotics: challenges and the need for automation
  2. The significance of prototyping in Meta's Robotics team
  3. Why ProtoPie stands out in Meta's workflow
  4. Real-world applications: Meta's robotics prototyping process
    1. Customer UI prototype
    2. Management UI prototype
    3. Remote control UI prototype
    4. Human-Robot Interaction prototype
  5. Prototyping tips from Meta's Robotics team

Data Center Robotics: challenges and the need for automation

Meta's Infrastructure Data Center group faces unique challenges in designing for internal users who need specialized training for the tools they operate. Unlike consumer-focused designs, where instant comprehension is crucial, Meta focuses on developing entire systems, considering the user's journey from approaching the tool to completing their goal.

Automation plays a crucial role in achieving this goal. It allows data center operators to work more efficiently and safely by providing them with the necessary tools to handle big tasks. It also frees them from tedious or dangerous work, enabling them to focus on more critical aspects of their job.

In essence, UI prototyping for robotics at Meta revolves around the following:

  • Designing for internal users with specialized training;
  • Prototyping complete systems, not just individual interactions;
  • Emphasizing hardware interoperability and simulating intricate robotic systems;
Meta data centers.
Meta's data centers.

The significance of prototyping in Meta's Robotics team

At Meta, they follow a fascinating approach to design - they simultaneously create and refine the user interface and hardware prototypes. This practice helps in seamlessly integrating these two critical components, resulting in a cohesive and user-friendly product. Ryan emphasizes the importance of designing the machine behaviors, signals, and controls in tandem with the on-screen elements. This approach ensures that the digital and physical worlds blend seamlessly, making the transition between the two a breeze.

Prototyping plays a pivotal role in Meta's design process for several reasons.

  1. Prototyping allows for quick iterations, surpassing the speed of traditional engineering development for every concept.
  2. The interactive nature of prototypes enhances user feedback, offering stakeholders and potential users a more tangible understanding than static design screens.
  3. Prototyping enhances comprehension for stakeholders and potential users, offering a more tangible and interactive experience than static screens.
  4. Prototyping facilitates the validation of potential use cases before committing to full-scale development.
  5. Simultaneous prototyping of UI and hardware designs fosters mutual influence, ensuring a harmonized and integrated final product.
prototyping in Meta IDC Robotics team
The significance of prototyping in Meta's IDC Robotics team.

Why ProtoPie stands out in Meta's workflow

Ryan highlights why Meta's Robotics team prefers ProtoPie for their prototyping needs.

ProtoPie's programmability and state maintenance during complex flows provide a level of flexibility that surpasses other tools. The tool's ability to expose programming concepts like variable scope, objects, conditionals, and events while remaining accessible to non-programmers contributes to its effectiveness.

Why Meta's Robotics team uses ProtoPie for prototyping.
Why Meta's Robotics team uses ProtoPie for prototyping.

The integration of ProtoPie with Arduino, facilitated through a dedicated plugin, serves as a crucial bridge for hardware and backend interoperability. This allows the team to control physical components such as motors, LEDs, and sensors from ProtoPie, establishing a seamless connection between the digital prototype and the physical hardware.

Hardware interface example using ProtoPie and Arduino.
Hardware interface example using ProtoPie and Arduino.

Real-world applications: Meta's robotics prototyping process

To illustrate the practical application of ProtoPie in Meta's robotics projects, Ryan delves into a fictional example of a robot restaurant.

This imaginary scenario involves various UI prototypes, including customer UI, management UI, remote control UI, and human-robot interaction (HRI) UI. Each of these interfaces presents distinct challenges and requires specific prototyping approaches, which we will dive into below.

fictional case studies for robotics protoyping
The scenario involves various UI prototypes, including customer UI, management UI, remote control UI, and human-robot interaction UI.

Customer UI prototype

Simplicity is key in the customer UI prototype, designed for tablets at restaurant tables. Ryan explains that this prototype could be standalone for basic browsing and ordering interactions or connected to a backend service to simulate a more comprehensive system.

Customer UI prototype.
Customer UI prototype.

Management UI prototype

In the management UI, where overseeing the entire restaurant's robot staff is crucial, the prototype would likely connect to a backend service and involve interactions with individual robots.

Management UI prototype.
Management UI prototype.

Remote control UI prototype

For the remote control UI, akin to this ProtoPie robot arm demo, the challenge lies in real-time, detailed control of individual robots. This requires a layer between ProtoPie and the physical robot hardware, such as an Arduino acting as a conductor to interpret higher-level instructions.

Remote control UI prototype.
Remote control UI prototype.

Human-Robot Interaction prototype

In the HRI prototype, where robots autonomously interact with humans, the robots' personalities come into play. Ryan emphasized that while Meta doesn't create lifelike robots, even simple robots on wheels can exhibit a form of personality through behaviors like acknowledging a person or adjusting their speed when approaching.

HRI prototype.
HRI prototype.

The main idea is that the ProtoPie prototype (Pie) has a defined role as the UI prototype in the robotics development process. Its purpose is not to get involved in the engineering details but to communicate with the rest of the system through well-defined conduits. This clear separation allows for a more focused and efficient development process.

The benefit of this approach is that the UI prototype doesn't need an in-depth understanding of the engineering intricacies. It interacts with a conduit that connects to the system, simplifying the design process. Additionally, this approach sets the stage for a smoother transition to building the production UI, which may use the same or similar conduits developed during the prototyping phase.

Prototyping tips from Meta's Robotics team

To conclude the webinar presentation, Ryan shares some valuable prototyping tips gathered from Meta's Robotics team's experience. These tips include:

  1. Start with wireframes to get the functionality working before diving into visual design.
  2. Use a "roadkill" or autopsy table to test early hardware interactions, allowing easier access to wires and components.
  3. Document triggers and responses with meaningful names in ProtoPie, using empty components for comments to enhance code clarity.
  4. Leverage group selection features to label and organize related triggers, enhancing the organization of complex prototypes.
  5. Utilize internal ID variables with unique overrides for repeated components, allowing instances to be easily distinguished.

These prototyping tips encapsulate Meta's pragmatic approach to navigating the complexities of robotics development, emphasizing efficiency, organization, and clarity in prototyping.

How ProtoPie shapes the future of robotics UX prototyping

As Meta continues to push the boundaries of UX prototyping within the dynamic realm of robotics, ProtoPie stands as a trusted companion, offering programmability, flexibility, and seamless integration with hardware components.

Join over 15,000 companies, including Meta, and start your prototyping journey today by trying ProtoPie for free.