New report explores the future of human-robot interaction

human-factors-researchHuman machine interaction is something I’ve touched upon one or two times before, with a recent study exploring how elderly patients react to being cared for by an automated carer.

A recent paper by MIT professor Thomas B. Sheridan attempts to provide an extensive overview of the literature around human-machine interaction.

The paper examines a whole host of domains where machines have taken an increasing role, whether it’s autonomous transportation, logistics or even machines that operate in hazardous environments.

Human-machine interaction

A common factor across all of these domains was a concern around human safety.  For instance, he warns us that humans are not really fast enough to respond sufficiently should a driverless car fail.  The driverless technology also struggles thus far with very human things such as eye contact or hand signals.

The level of trust we’re happy to place in machines is an area that is still relatively under-developed.  For instance, how many of us would be happy to fly in a plane that is automatically piloted?

He goes on to report on some of the progress that’s been made, especially in areas such as undersea vehicles, but even these areas require progress in things such as the displays and controls in the craft.

Many of the areas currently under exploration for automation would similarly benefit from more human factors research to ensure we work well alongside our digital peers.

Even in some of the elderly care settings I mentioned at the start of this post, there are issues around the exact form the robotic helper should take.  Will patients take better to a humanoid robot compared to one that is perhaps more practical but more unusually designed?

Better feedback loops

Key to improvement in this area is the creation of robots that are capable of soliciting and absorbing feedback from humans.  Likewise, we need more study into the ways different ages, genders and abilities best learn and engage with robots.

There is also the inevitable PR job to be done in this field, to reassure the public that robots are here to augment our lives rather than make us redundant.  They will hopefully enhance our sense of self-worth rather than diminish it.

None of these are insurmountable challenges, but the paper plays a valuable role in highlighting some of the areas that have not yet been adequately addressed.


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