Human-centered robotics holds a special place in the robotics field because both of them mimic human sensing and cognitive behavior, and are designed to assist humans for safety and productivity. To explore human-centered robotics is to explore human beings and how we sense the world, analyze complex and often conflicting information, and act upon our findings, modifying perception, understanding, and action as new information is available. Such machines could be of great practical benefit to humans on long space flights to Mars, for instance, or as human proxies in hazardous environments such as a chemical spill or even ordinary circumstances like education or elder care.
Creating human-centered robots poses many challenges in conception, design, and the hardware and software that support them. Once we have a platform for human-centered robotics, and once we can create the hardware and software and the logic to drive them, we can turn to its many real-world applications.
The more important aspect of this field is how to create human-centered robotics that senses their surroundings and either respond to human directions or intuit what actions would best serve their human counterpart. Another quest in human-centered robotics is to create the ability of a robot to not just predict human behavior but to perform Advanced human-centered robots will play pivotal roles in hazardous environments.
Robots at home
One area of human-robot interaction to consider: our relationship with robots in our homes. As the Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly connects our smart devices, we’re creating an appetite for features and capabilities that go far beyond the floor cleaning and artificially intelligent web searching/shopping tools available today. Interactive robotic toys and social robots are starting to hit the market promising richer and more natural communications and links to information and content.
The physical environment in many homes is obstacle-ridden so robots that can climb stairs, reach things, open doors, and go outside will be very desirable. We see the work being done in quadruped design evolving to in-home applications where robots act as active monitors keeping track of things while you are away and assisting you by finding things when you are home. They will also act as the interface to other control systems in the home, controlling thermostats, managing lights and locks, helping families with tasks, and even offering a level of companionship to your (biologic) pets.
Robots at work
You may have experienced robots delivering mail at work, or taking supplies to another machine but soon we’re going to see robots shopping next to us in stores and policing public spaces. We see purpose-built robots performing numerous jobs behind the scenes, in quiet, almost invisible ways. Smart cities with autonomous robotic workforces will provide a range of public services to their citizens.
Flying robots are particularly interesting because they can work above certain constraints and get to places where it’s difficult for people to get quickly. Cooperative robots can monitor waterways for boat traffic, compromised vessels, dangerous sea life, etc., to provide quicker and better data to human resources on and offshore, but how they communicate to engender trust and inspire action is a next-level design question.
I hope this mere glimpse into the world of human-centered robotics piques your curiosity. It may serve to attract those who wish to work in the field. But the general public should also understand that advances in this field will eventually make their way into human-centered robotics in our homes, our businesses, manufacturing, agriculture, smart cities, the Internet of Things, you name it. We’ll have systems someday—we already do, with limited abilities to sense human behaviors and intervene to produce optimal conditions based on an understanding of what’s best for the people involved in a particular situation.
As technology advances, human-centered robots will be able to perform countless tasks.
University Institute of Engineering and Technology, Panjab University