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World's first blueprint for "Human Robot Interaction" launches 

The Small Robot Company has joined forces with the John Lewis Partnership, strategic design consultancy Method and a number of leading robotics companies and industry bodies in the UK, to develop a blueprint for “Human Robotic Interaction” in the 21st century.

Envisioned as an open framework to be evolved over time, this groundbreaking initiative will foster and accelerate the safe and ethical adoption of robotics across British industry. It will also help define how autonomous robotic technology should interact with people in the real world across different environments and sectors including manufacturing, retail and farming.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov is credited as the founder of the first laws of robotics when his 1942 short story Runaround outlined three rules governing robot behaviour, namely that an autonomous machine must not harm a person, always obey orders and protect its own existence without compromising its other principles. Seventy-seven years on, robot technology is increasingly ubiquitous across all sectors of the economy, with the explosion in autonomous robotics fuelled by Artificial Intelligence. The number of industrial robots active in the UK has grown by 30% according to the International Federation of Robotics highlighting the need for a framework to govern how robots should interact with humans as we start to encounter them in a wide range of everyday scenarios.  

The Human Robotic Interaction blueprint will look to define:

  • the proper characteristics and states of the robot persona
  • how the user/ robot relationship should function
  • how robots should be properly programmed - to ensure people find them engaging, trust-provoking and safe 
  • how a robot should interact within the boundaries of its geospatial map
  • how a robot should respond to humans it encounters during the course of its work
     

The initial principles for the blueprint will be formally presented during a stakeholder consultation event on 1 August at Google's offices in London. This will be followed by a public consultation, supported by organisations such as the National Trust and LEAF. This will be launched at Countryfile Live on the same day in association with the National Trust. The output will then be developed into a first-of-its kind commercial HRI guide. 

This unique initiative follows on from Small Robot Company’s first collaboration with the John Lewis Partnership last November, when it commenced a three year trial of its harvesting robots on the Waitrose & Partners farm in Leckford, Hampshire. The robotics company also continues to work closely with the John Lewis Partnership’s Room Y innovation team, which is assisting in the development of HRI as well as other innovative propositions that could transform the retail industry.

John Vary, Futurologist at the John Lewis Partnership, comments: “Britain is a melting pot for robotics innovation and the use of autonomous robot technology to assist human workers is a very real prospect for the future. Before we get there, we need to define how that relationship works. The John Lewis Partnership started out as a radical experiment in industrial democracy and innovation continues to remain at the heart of our business today. Therefore we are uniquely placed to support businesses like the Small Robot Company as this technology evolves.”

Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company, comments: “Real world robotics is set to explode. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, robots are now becoming truly autonomous, and we're about to see a massive influx of commercial robots in the consumer domain. In our shops, our factories, our hotels, our streets and our fields. It's vital that consumers can trust and feel comfortable with these encounters. So we're launching a cross-industry initiative to create a blueprint for robotics in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Other collaborators on the Human Robotic Interaction initiative include: Method, The Manufacturing Technology Centre, The Turing Institute, Dr Karina Vold of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, robotics designers Konpanion and industrial robotics start-up ZOA Robotics. 

James Steiner, Method’s Design director comments: "At Method, we design new interaction paradigms that often go beyond the screen, connecting people and technology in the most human way possible. We believe that Real World Robots will be powerful allies in creating a more sustainable, productive and fulfilling future for people and the planet. It’s a privilege to work with John Lewis Partnership, Small Robot Company and the rest of the HRI team to define some universal principles that can be easily applied to improve the design of any Human Robot Interaction scenario. We believe the output of this initiative will provide valuable decision-making tools to anyone embarking on creating a real world robot solution."

Matt Jones, principal designer at Google AI, comments: “I'm excited to host the discussion and understand the collective efforts of the group so far. AI, data and robotics are obviously close to Google's heart and we're keen to support those exploring a robust framework for humanscale robotics and AI.” 

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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