How Human-Robot Interaction Advanced at Willow Garage

In the News
February 06, 2017

The robotics start-ups to come out of Willow Garage have been very competitive in the industry. From the Robot Operating System to personal robot PR2, the research and development to come out of the laboratory and incubator have influenced all of robotics.

Another example of Willow Garage’s enduring influence is in the design of human-robot interaction, or HRI.

Interface design is an important element in determining to whether consumers and society will accept robots in everyday life. Although it is getting more difficult to differentiate robots by functions, end-user companies want to assume that the quality of human-machine interactions will help them acquire new customers.

The reason why there is not yet a robot for domestic use is because “robots are lacking social interaction like human beings,” observed Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab and chief scientist at Jibo Inc. Her company has been working on a crowdfunded social robot.

Breazeal insisted that not only must robots not harm human beings, but they should also give us a good first impression. Robots need to establish good relationships with humans, she said.

Business Takeaways:

  • Willow Garage was the training ground for many robotics leaders who continue to influence the industry to this day.
  • Human-robot interaction was one focus of Willow Garage’s research, and it is essential to the widening adoption and use of robots in society.
  • The PR2 robot set a standard baseline for HRI research and allowed for comparisons of different designs and effectiveness of robotics interfaces.

The study of human-robot interaction

HRI is the field of study for the conceptualizing, designing, and evaluating robotic systems that work alongside humans. Its aim is to make communications between robots and humans as effortless as possible.

As the use of robots has expanded beyond factories and artificial intelligence capabilities have improved, the expectations for socially and culturally appropriate interaction have increased. Furthermore, the ability of robots such as SoftBank’s Pepper to recognize speech, gestures, and facial expressions should make communications even easier.

“Robotiquette” is a term defined by Kerstin Dautenhahn, a research professor of AI at Hertfordshire University, as “social rules for a robot’s behavior that is comfortable and acceptable to humans.”

For robots to adapt to our demands, she said, they “should be able to understand the complicated environment we human beings live in and that it is necessary to understand our...

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