July 4, 2013
Researchers Work Towards More Trustworthy Robots
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Engineers from the UK are working hard to ensure future robots don't go all Skynet on us and take over the world.
Funded by the country's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Trustworthy Robotic Assistants (TRA) is a three-year collaborative endeavor dedicated to developing a safe and responsible way for robots to be fully integrated in our lives, such as being assistants for the elderly or disabled.
While previous research has outlined how robots should interact with humans, the engineers are looking to develop a robotic system that not only understands whether a particular robotic move is safe, but also if a robot is capable of making deliberately unsafe moves.
In a statement, the project engineers said humans must be able to trust robots if they are to have a productive, working relationship in the future.
"People need to be able to trust robots that they come into contact with," said Kerstin Dautenhahn, TRA team member and a professor with the University of Hertfordshire's Adaptive Systems Research Group. "As part of this new project, our research team here in Hertfordshire will focus on safety issues and trustworthy behavior in the application of robots as home companions."
"The assessment of robotic trustworthiness has many facets, from the safety analysis of robot behaviors, through physical reliability of interactions, to human perceptions of such safe operation," said Michael Fisher, a director of Hertfordshire's Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology.
Team members said they see a future when helper robots are produced en masse and certain safety systems need to be developed before that becomes a reality.
"Safety assurance of robots is an urgent research challenge that must be addressed before many products that already exist in labs can be unlocked for mass production," said Bristol University's Kerstin Eder, a principal investigator for the TRA project. "This requires collaboration of verification experts with roboticists and those who specialize in human-robot interaction, so that a human-centric, holistic approach to safety assurance can be developed."
One of the systems currently being used in the project is known as BERT. Used to test manufacturing scenarios, BERT has worked alongside human colleagues to complete manufacturing jobs, including component handovers and product manufacture.
"Working on this new research project with colleagues across the UK will enable us to tackle the crucial issue of developing robotic systems which can work safely with humans," said Tony Pipe, a professor of robotics at the University of the West of England. "This is a vital step in developing robots for a whole range of functions for the future, where they will be useful to humans."
Aside from those institutions already mentioned, the TRA project includes researchers from the University of Liverpool and industrial partners, such as the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) and RU Robots Limited.
Liverpool's researchers have been internationally recognized for their work on other autonomous systems on logic and analysis. Their job is to set up a thorough formal foundation for creating reliable, safe and honest autonomous systems.