XII.2 March + April 2005
Page: 12
Digital Citation

Have robots, need interaction with humans!

Jean Scholtz

In this special edition of <interactions> we try to give readers an overview of the exciting world of human-robot interaction. While robots have been used in manufacturing assembly lines for some time, we are now seeing many other uses for them. We have included articles about robots being used for search and rescue, for missions in space, as laboratory hosts, and as aids for therapy for children. In addition, robots are currently being used to assist in surgery, and to help identify and dispose of dangerous chemicals and explosive devices. Robots have been designed to help the elderly and the disabled. And robot pets and toys are popular with children of all ages.

As robots come into more general use, the public needs to interact with them. This is a time for the CHI community to become involved. Articles in this edition of <interactions> also address challenges for human-robot interaction, including using cognitive models for interaction, developing socially intelligent robots, and developing a way to communicate with robots about spatial references.

In 2001, a workshop on human-robot interaction was sponsored by DARPA and NSF ( The inter-disciplinary workshop identified many challenges for HRI:

  1. More extensive interdisciplinary interaction must be motivated. HRI is an intrinsically cross-disciplinary endeavor. There is a perceived need for cross-disciplinary education and joint work.
  2. Basic taxonomies and research issues must be identified. Research-related issues that should be addressed within the next three years are: metrics, toolboxes for interfaces, establishment of principles of user-centered design, and how to incorporate the contributions from broader communities (AI, Engineering, Psychology, etc.)
  3. Social informatics is a critical, unexplored arena. While emotional intelligence is needed from some applications, it may be inappropriate for others; therefore, both the issues of how to embody emotional intelligence and when it is useful was suggested as technical goals for the next three years.
  4. It is essential to define a small number of common application domains. Research in HRI has reached the point where appropriate domains are needed for rigorous evaluation and comparison of results.
  5. Members of the HRI community need field experience.

While some of this work is currently underway, there remain relatively few researchers in HRI. The call for more emphasis in this field was clearly made at a recent National Academy of Sciences Study on Scalable Interfaces for Air and Ground Military Robots. The robots are being developed and will be used! Researchers in human-robot interaction have only a few years to make a difference in the interaction designs.

It’s an exciting time to get involved. Robot capabilities are expanding every day. We need interaction designs that work today and evolve for the future. CHI conferences are offering more papers, workshops, and tutorials on human-robot interaction. And new conferences on human-robot interaction are starting up. Traditional conferences on robotics are now accepting papers on human-robot interaction. We have several articles about robot camps and summer schools that were held in the past year. The field is broad and exciting. We need more researchers with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Hope to see you there!


Dr. Jean Scholtz is a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Her research interests are evaluation methodologies and metrics for interaction with intelligent systems. Her work with human-robot interaction includes on and off-road driving, urban search and rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, and assembly in space.

©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0300  $5.00

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