Industrial robotics is starting to use psychology to create perceptual experiences

Written by Valentina Ramirez Millan, HTI student in Psychology of Pervasive Computing course

Based on the Future of Robotics in Finland Seminar

In a technical world created by mathematicians, engineers and software developers it is easy to feel lost and out of the conversation when you came from the humanistic side, especially when the topic is industrial robots. If this situation feels familiar, this blog post is for you!

Here I will tell my experience in the seminar The Future of Robotics in Finland organized in Tampere University of Technology on the 23rd of November 2018.

It was the kind of event were the most of the jokes told by the speakers were referring to some complicated mathematical formulas and sensor that a UX Designer like me was not able to catch up and laugh at the same time. Fortunately my curiosity was bigger that my shame and I decided to stay and listen, there is always something to learn.

At the middle of his talk the professor of Computer Science and Engineering (in particular Robotics) Steven M. LaValle, who have worked for several years at Oculus developing VR, started talking about the use of technologies to design, develop and deliver perceptual experiences. He mentioned how the massive amount of technology we use every day is transforming the way we experience life with a direct impact in our sensory systems. This understanding drove his vision to a new field call perception engineering, which aims to deliver perceptual experience by understanding human physiology and human perception process, doing reverse engineering.

Scheme presented by Steven M. LaValle

Since an important contribution to this model comes from the knowledge of perceptual psychology and neuroscience, I was fascinated and happy to know that humanistic side is needed in robotics, even when he admitted that at the beginning the members of the team did not know exactly what the psychologist was doing there. (Finally a joke that I could laugh).

In his paper “The Path to (Human) Perception Engineering”, LaValle assesses the future of this field “This leads to unique challenges, including finding the correct engineering criteria for effectiveness and comfort, understanding the adaptation of sensory and perceptual systems, and designing new interfaces that exploit learnable motor programs.”

After the talk we went to a coffee break, and before you wonder, no it wasn’t robot barista there although it would have suited for the event 🙂 But I had the opportunity to get confused with some industrial robots presentations and also learn about a project developed by the FAST-Lab which is using haptic-gestures based interface to let a task expert teach to an industrial robot how to do certain task. This project aims to change the focus that robot trainers are always the ones who understand the code but not necessarily the expert on the task. More point for human-centered vision on robotics!

The second keynote that got my attention was ‘Cobots and the future of manufacturing’ given by Samuli Bergstrom, from Omron Electronics Oy. Cobots stand for collaborative robots, designed as line of industrial robots that are able to work with the presence of a person at the same time that robot is performing a task. One of the main features is the simple user interface that can be taught in five minutes.

Wait a minute, robotics considering UX? The answer is yes, and with that in mind I will like to end this post today. Designer, psychologist and any person that work with humanistics – don’t be afraid, robotics is waiting for us!

Café X’s robot barista, image taken from business insider.com

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