AIR Journey E2: AI and Human-Robot Interaction

This time, we are discussing the interaction between robots and humans, which has many more gray areas and aspects to consider than one might initially think. For some, this interaction is one of the fields most significantly impacted by AI, while for others, it’s seen as a nice-to-have feature. Inspired by intelligent robots from science fiction, the industry is evolving to meet expectations while simultaneously striving to make robotics more inclusive to a broader audience.

Read the full context here: AI Robotics Journey Intro

Expert: Konstantin
Interviewer: Robi
C3PO from Star Wars can understand thousands of different languages and emotions.
What are the basic principles of human-robot interaction, and how has AI transformed these interactions in recent years?
Let's start with something simple first. The field of robotics is extremely vast, and the diversity of designs can vary significantly between applications. I'd like to delve into two distinct markets initially. In industrial settings, robots are typically equipped with control panels/screens for user interactions and basic information display. However, in service robotics, engineers quickly recognized the need for more interaction to inform people in the robot's vicinity about its intentions. Over the past few years, colored light has emerged as a simple yet highly effective choice for communication (especially over range). However, we are now on the cusp of entering a new era because of AI. Advancements in AI have significantly enhanced the ability of robots to understand, interpret, and respond to human behaviors and preferences, fostering more natural and productive interactions between humans and robots. Yet, it is a relatively open question on how to use AI for particularly creating better human-robot interactions.
Mobile robots with simple but effective led strips and front display. Source: SAFELOG
Can you discuss some of the major advancements in AI that have significantly improved how robots interact with humans?
Adding AI to the equation introduces a completely new dimension with one simple goal: making collaboration between humans and robots as seamless as possible. Integrating industrial robots into a production line is typically a tedious and lengthy process. However, collaborative robots like Universal Robots' UR10 have begun to change this paradigm by enabling more intuitive motions. Rethink Robotics took this a step further by incorporating AI into the demonstration routine, allowing the system to understand essential tasks. Teach-and-repeat systems became a core concept in robotics, and advancements in machine learning have accelerated this process. One significant improvement was the ability to use videos of humans for demonstration or imitation learning. Promising results were achieved with Baxter (Rethink Robotics) at the Robot Training Academy of the Autonomy, Robotics, and Cognition Lab at the University of Maryland in 2015. They successfully taught the robot to make cocktails by observing a human bartender on YouTube.
Baxter works on the manufacturing line alongside humans. Source: Rethink Robotics
Human demonstrations pose particular challenges because the human body is perfectly balanced and finely tuned from head to toe. Robots must reinterpret grasping, movement, and force within the human demonstration to replicate the task accurately. Furthermore, the robot does not understand the rationale behind its actions and therefore cannot anticipate errors, such as grasping a glass too firmly and causing it to break. While these advancements improve robot usability and deployment, considerations for operation, trust, and safety remain paramount.
How important is natural language processing in human-robot interaction, and what are the challenges in implementing it effectively?
Natural language is often anticipated as the most straightforward communication option. However, similar to interactions between humans, it's not always the perfect choice due to the inherent fuzziness of language. Visual demonstration can be quicker and more effective in certain contexts – hence the saying, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' Recent advancements in chatbots, such as ChatGPT from 2023 and others, highlight the challenge of context understanding. There's a significant amount for an agent or robot to grasp before fully comprehending a given question. Specialized context, along with guidelines and domain knowledge, can streamline this complexity to a manageable level. For example, a cleaning robot doesn't need to answer poetry questions; it focuses on tasks within its capabilities. As technology progresses, robots will become more adept at understanding and responding to our needs.
To what extent can AI enable robots to understand and respond to human emotions? Are there examples where this has been successfully implemented?
As I'm not an expert in this particular subfield, I'm keen to hear ChatGPT's insights on the matter. I intend to delve deeper into its response during our discussion.
ChatGPT: AI has made significant strides in enabling robots to understand and respond to human emotions, although there are still limitations. Current AI technologies, such as natural language processing, computer vision, and affective computing, provide robots with the ability to recognize facial expressions, tone of voice, and other emotional cues.

While robots can detect basic emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger, their ability to truly understand and empathize with human emotions is still evolving. However, there are indeed examples where AI has been successfully implemented to enhance human-robot interaction based on emotional understanding.
Softbank Robotics enhances Pepper with emotial intelligence. Source: Softbank Robotics
ChatGPT: For instance, in healthcare settings, robots equipped with emotion recognition capabilities can provide companionship and support to patients by responding appropriately to their emotional states. 

However, it's essential to approach this topic with caution and ethical considerations. Ensuring that robots respect privacy, consent, and cultural differences in emotional expression is crucial. While AI holds promise in enhancing human-robot interaction through emotional understanding, it's essential to strike a balance between technological capabilities and ethical considerations.
So far, I've never come across a socially aware robot that has successfully utilized emotion-sensing cues. I agree that emotions can be detected, and there are instances in human-AI interaction, such as customer services, where it is very helpful to provide proper service. In my humble opinion, robots that we perceive as being very emotional are efficient in acting as such. They employ movement patterns and soft tones to create the illusion of an intelligent and lovingly robot. One recent example I'd like to mention is a show released by Disney last year, which perfectly demonstrates a successful show:

Video of Disney – Droids in Training
Softbank enhances Pepper with emotional intelligence

Safety and trust are crucial in human-robot interaction. How does AI contribute to these aspects, and what challenges remain?
Trust, in general, requires time to develop. Humans need both time and a series of experiences to trust a system. Transparency can expedite this process by comprehending the elements and chain of decisions. Robots execute tasks via highly complex input-output pipelines to arrive at intelligent decisions. It's crucial to develop tools that enable the robot to explain their reasoning and actions in a clear and understandable manner for humans. Referring back to the previously mentioned light example, a mobile robot can convey critical information to external observers. For instance, red blinking signals an error, while yellow indicates the robot is obstructed on its path. Similarly to cars, this serves as a universal language, understood by nearly everyone—such as left or right blinkers indicating a forthcoming turn.
How does the field of user experience design intersect with AI in creating effective human-robot interactions?
User Experience Design originated and gained prominence in UI and web designs, but its importance extends to various applications, including robotics. Serving robots represent a common example where the necessity of user experience design becomes evident. Their primary function is to deliver food to tables. However, some guests have complained that these robots arrive at the table without notifying them on arrival. Additionally, it can be challenging to determine which table the served food belongs to. Similar issues arise with delivery robots failing to indicate their readiness to hand over shipments. These challenges become even more complex when interactions become bothersome due to excessive notifications and sounds.

Simple workarounds include implementing face recognition algorithms or employing complex scene understanding capabilities. For instance, if a person at the table being served looks at the robot, no additional sound notification is necessary; a friendly gesture indicating to take off the dishes would suffice.

I once encountered a study where researchers tested a virtual arrow sign on the front of the robot to indicate its direction of movement, aiming to prevent speed reduction due to oncoming traffic. However, the results were unexpected as 50 percent of the time, people misunderstood the sign and followed the direction of the arrow, causing confusion and even worsening the situation. This example highlights the importance of carefully designing user experiences in robotics to avoid unintended consequences.
What impact do AI-enhanced robots have on society, particularly in the workplace? Can you provide examples of positive and negative impacts?
Past studies have demonstrated that social aspects improving human-machine interaction significantly enhance the workplace environment. Especially when robots collaborate alongside humans, it not only reduces the mental load on human coworkers but also boosts productivity. Fewer errors occur because humans don't feel like they're on a treadmill. Moreover, people are less likely to distrust robots when they perceive them as colleagues or helpers rather than job-threatening adversaries. This subtle shift in perception alleviates many challenges associated with working alongside robots, facilitating assistance when robots encounter difficulties or preventing them from hindering job completion.
What are the ethical considerations when designing AI systems for human-robot interaction? How do we ensure these systems are fair and unbiased?
Emotional sensing and working alongside humans endow robots, and the companies behind them, with significant responsibilities. Robots constantly capture vast amounts of data, inevitably exposing them to the potential of witnessing human errors or failures—it's not a matter of if, but when it occurs. Consequently, there arises a crucial need for inclusive design practices and the development of fair and unbiased systems. Establishing trust in future applications hinges on addressing these challenges proactively. It's essential not only to ensure that robots interact effectively and empathetically with humans but also to cultivate an environment of fairness and equity in their operations.
Based on current trends and developments, what can we expect in the future of human-robot interaction? What are the next big breakthroughs on the horizon?
We've observed significant strides in AI development in recent months, and this trend is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. Modern AIs are starting to become capable of understanding multi-modal input data, which is essential for robots to interpret camera inputs and take action accordingly. The integration of AI into robotics, enabling them to both act and sense the world, represents a significant advancement. However, before highly intelligent robots can roam the earth, it's crucial to accelerate the processing of AI models used, ensuring natural interaction and timely task completion. Remarkable results have recently been achieved by companies like Figure. However, it's important to remember that marketing videos are designed to appear flawless. Nonetheless, it's encouraging to witness such advancements.
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Hi folks, my name is Robi and I have the honor to keep you up to date with the latest information about events, stories and technical innovations @ ARTI.
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