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Haptic Feedback for Human Robot Interaction

Monday 1st April

The potential of robots for Search and Rescue has been shown by the Guardians project (EU, 2006-2010); however the project also laid bare the problem of human robot interaction in smoky (non-visibility) and noisy conditions. Test showed the firefighters were not confident with the robot interface.

The Reins project (EPSRC, 2011-2015) focussed on the interaction problem and studied the contextual basis of tactile and haptic human robot interaction in low visibility conditions. Inspired by the handle for guide dog for the blind, the project applied a tangible physical connection to link the human and the robot. Visual and aural feedback were excluded from the interaction; the aim was to explore the interaction landscape emerging in a human-robot team by using a physical connection only.

Current navigation aids mostly rely on the visual sense or verbal information. The haptic sense is largely overlooked despite it being extraordinary fast. The future outlook of our project is to create an appropriate interface with which a human and a semi-autonomous robot would be able navigate confidently in sensory-deprived conditions. The latter is still unsolved and remains an open problem.

Even though we are not in a position to report great practical successes with haptics on its own, we believe there is enough ground to continue investigating. In future applications the haptic sense may complement the visual and aural sense as it has its own particular neural route.

A further development was initiated by colleagues from the nursing department. They suggested applying the robot as a companion for people suffering from dementia. The essential additional value of a robot is its ability to physically move in space and we look into how to exploit that capability for interaction. Something tangible and physical was needed to connect the person to the robot; they may simply forget that the robot is with them. A stick was judged too rigid; and we used a standard dog lead in a demonstration for a dementia focus group.


Prof Jacques Penders is the head of the Centre for Automation and Robotics Research (CARR). He is also the Deputy Director of Sheffield Robotics, a collaboration between Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield.

Jacques was awarded an MEng in Landscape Architecture by RHSTL, Boskoop, The Netherlands, an MSc in Philosophy and an MSc in Mathematics by the University of Amsterdam, and a PhD in Artificial Intelligence by the University of Maastricht. He held a teaching position at the University of Amsterdam, and several research and (international) management positions at KPN Research. He has published in international journals and conference proceedings on the subjects of Swarm Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Multimedia retrieval and AI, Logistics and AI and on the Privacy aspects of Communication Traffic Data. Jacques's current research interest is in Natural Agents and Robotics and Human Robot Interaction, he currently pursues two tracks.


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