BRL Collaborates in Project to Develop Trustworthy Robotic Assistants

Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is part of a new £1.2million project which aims to ensure future robotic systems can be trusted by humans.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding the three-and-a-half-year project, which will explore how robots can interact with humans in a safe and trustworthy manner.

Robots are increasingly being developed to serve as active 'helpers' in situations where humans require assistance, such as personal care robots which help patients during recovery.

Although there has been some research carried out on safety of robotic assistants during interaction with humans, it is still crucial to understand not only whether the robot makes safe moves, but whether it knowingly or deliberately makes unsafe moves.

If human-robot teamwork is to become viable and productive, the humans involved must be fully confident in the robot's behaviour.

Experts from BRL, a collaborative partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol), will work with industry partners and colleagues at the Universities of Liverpool and Hertfordshire on the 'Trustworthy Robotic Assistants' (TRA) project.

Bristol University's Dr Kerstin Eder, the principal investigator for the TRA project at the BRL and Leader of the Verification & Validation for Safety in Robots research theme at the BRL, said: "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. 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."

'BERT', one of the robotic platforms being used on the project, was developed as part of a research project on Cooperative Human Robot Interactive Systems, at BRL. BERT has been used to examine manufacturing scenarios in which BERT collaborated with human colleagues to complete manufacturing tasks, including dynamic component handovers and product manufacture. BERT is based at BRL's custom robot test and evaluation facility, at UWE Bristol.

Professor Tony Pipe, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at UWE, said: "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. This is a vital step in developing robots for a whole range of functions for the future, where they will be useful to humans."

The project involves teams from the University of Liverpool's Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology (led by Professor Michael Fisher and Dr Clare Dixon), the University of Hertfordshire's Adaptive Systems Research Group (led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn), the BRL, as well as industrial partners, including the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) and RU Robots Limited.

Professor Michael Fisher, principal investigator at Liverpool and Director of the University's Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology, said: "The assessment of robotic trustworthiness has many facets, from the safety analysis of robot behaviours, through physical reliability of interactions, to human perceptions of such safe operation."

Liverpool's researchers are internationally recognised for their research on logic, formal analysis, and the foundations of autonomy and, both within the multidisciplinary Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology and within the "Trustworthy Robotic Assistants" project, their role is to provide a rigorous formal basis for developing reliable, safe and trustworthy autonomous systems.

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