£1.3M research project asks “Can humans trust a robot?”

For years, we’ve been promised by books, television, movies (and more recently, actual researchers) that the future holds a slew of domestic robot helpers that will save us from household chores. But if you actually had such a robot, could you trust it?

A new 3 1/2-year, £1.2-million project in the United Kingdom aims to find out.

The Trustworthy Robotic Assistants project, which is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will explore how robots can interact with humans in a safe and trustworthy manner. It is being investigated by Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a collaborative partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, and the universities of Liverpool and Hertfordshire. Industrial partners include the British Automation & Robot Association and RU Robots Limited.

“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,” Kerstin Eder, a principal investigator on the project based at Bristol University, said in a statement. “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.”

The researchers say that while some research has been carried out on the safety of robotic assistants, they want to understand “not only whether the robot makes safe moves, but whether it knowingly or deliberately makes unsafe moves.” For human-robot teamwork to be viable, they say, humans must be fully confident in the robot’s behavior.

“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 robotics and autonomous systems professor working on the project for 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.”

You can learn more and follow along with the project through its website: Trustworthy Robotic Assistants

[ photo courtesy of RoboSafe.org ]