Human–robot Interaction

Eureka by Matt Dorfman

Human–robot interaction (HRI) is the study of interactions between humans and robots; it is a multidisciplinary field with contributions from artificial intelligence, robotics, natural language understanding, design, and social sciences.

The basic goal of HRI is to define a general human model that could lead to principles and algorithms allowing more natural and effective interaction between humans and robots. Research ranges from how humans work with remote, tele-operated unmanned vehicles to peer-to-peer collaboration with anthropomorphic robots. Many in the field of HRI study how humans collaborate and interact and use those studies to motivate how robots should interact with humans.

The origin of HRI as a discrete problem was stated by Isaac Asimov in 1941 in his novel ‘I, Robot’ with his ‘Three Laws of Robotics’: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.’

These laws of robotics determine the idea of safe interaction. The closer the human and the robot get and the more intricate the relationship becomes, and the risk of a human being injured rises. In advanced societies, manufacturers solve this issue by segregating robots and humans with safe zones and cages. With advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous robots could eventually have more proactive roles, planning their motion in complex unknown environments. These new capabilities keep safety as the primary issue and efficiency as secondary. Research in this field is focused on human detection, motion planning, scene reconstruction, intelligent behavior through task planning, and compliant behavior using force control (impedance or admittance control schemes).

Robots are increasingly leaving the factory for use in fields such as search and rescue, military battle, mine and bomb detection, scientific exploration, law enforcement, entertainment, and hospital care. These new domains of applications imply a closer interaction with the user. The concept of closeness is to be taken in its full meaning, robots and humans share the workspace but also share goals in terms of task achievement. This close interaction needs new theoretical models, on one hand for the robotics scientists who work to improve the robots utility and on the other hand to evaluate the risks and benefits of this new ‘friend’ of modern society.

Professor of Artificial Intelligence Kerstin Dautenhahn refers to friendly Human–robot interaction as ‘Robotiquette,’ defining it as the ‘social rules for robot behavior (a ‘robotiquette’) that is comfortable and acceptable to humans.’The robot has to adapt itself to humans ways of expressing desires and orders and not the contrary. But everyday environments such as homes have much more complex social rules than those implied by factories or even military environments. Thus, the robot needs perceiving and understanding capacities to build dynamic models of its surroundings. It needs to categorize objects, recognize and locate humans and further their emotions. The need for dynamic capacities pushes forward every sub-field of robotics.

On the other end of HRI, researchers are studying the ‘relationship’ between human and the robots. A lot of data has been gathered with regards to user studies. For example, when users encounter proactive behavior on the part of the robot and the robot does not respect a safety distance, penetrating the user space, he or she might express fear. It has been shown that when a robot has no particular use, negative feelings are often expressed. The robot is perceived as useless and its presence becomes annoying. In another experiment, it has occurred that people tend to attribute to the robot personality characteristics that were not implemented.

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