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Getting a Grip on Human-Robot Cooperation

Ground-breaking study reveals guiding principles that regulate choice of grasp type during a human-robot exchange of objects

The study, published in Science Robotics, is a collaboration between The BioRobotics Institute (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy) and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Photo: Elastico Disegno www.elasticofarm.com

There is a time when a successful cooperation between humans and robots has decisive importance: it is in the precise moment that one “actor” is required to hand an object to another “actor” and, therefore, to coordinate their actions accordingly. But how can we make this interaction more natural for robots?

The answer comes from the study entitled “On the choice of grasp type and location when handing over an object”, published in Science Robotics by a research team of The BioRobotics Instituteof Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. The study reveals the guiding principles that regulate the choice of grasp type during an exchange of objects, encouraging cooperation between a robotic system and a person.

Watch a video of the researchers in action

The study, conducted in 2018, analysed the behavior of people when they have to grasp an object and when, instead of using it themselves, they need to hand it over to a partner. The researchers investigated the grasp choice and hand placement on those objects during a handover when subsequent tasks are performed by the receiver. Passers tend to grasp the purposive part of the objects and leave “handles” unobstructed to the receivers. Intuitively, this choice allows receivers to comfortably perform subsequent tasks with the objects.

“We realised that, to date, insufficient attention has been given to the way a robot grasps an object in studies on human-robot interaction,” explains Francesca Cini, PhD student of The BioRobotics Institute and one of the two principal authors of the paper. “This aspect is very pivotal in this field. For example, when we pass a screwdriver knowing that the receiver should use it, we leave the handle free to facilitate the grasp and the subsequent use of the object. The aim of our research is to transfer all these guiding principles onto a robotic system so that they will be used to select a correct grasp type and to facilitate the exchange of objects.”

The impact of the collaborative study opens new scenarios of technological innovation, bringing benefits to various social activities where human-robot cooperation is well-established and yet to be established. Indeed, it would be possible to ameliorate the production steps in an industrial context while, in rehabilitation, robots could assist patients with more natural and effective results.

“Collaborative Robotics is the next frontier of both industrial and assistive robotics,” says Marco Controzzi, researcher of The BioRobotics Institute and principal investigator of Human-Robot Interaction Lab. “For this reason, we need a new generation of robots designed to interact with humans in a natural way. These results will allow us to instruct the robot to manipulate objects as a human collaborator through the introduction of simple rules.”

“Perhaps surprisingly, grasping and manipulation are regarded as very intuitive and straightforward actions for us humans,” says Valerio Ortenzi, a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and the other principal author of the paper. “However, they simply are not. We intended to shed a light on the behavior of humans while interacting in a common manipulation task and a handover is a perfect example where little adjustments are performed to best achieve the shared goal to safely pass an object from one person to the other.”

“Real-world manipulation remains one of the greatest challenges in robotics and we strive to be the world leader in the research field of visually-guided robotic manipulation,” says Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Director Peter Corke. “This research collaboration with Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna forms a vital partnership towards our goal of overcoming the last barrier to the ubiquitous deployment of truly useful robots into society. While most people don’t think about picking up and moving objects – something human brains have learned over time through repetition and routine – for robots, grasping and manipulation is subtle and elusive.”

More information, including a copy of the paper, can be accessed here: http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/scirobotics/.

[From left] Valerio Ortenzi, Marco Controzzi, Peter Corke and Francesca Cini


The BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna has built a vast wealth of knowledge and expertise in several fields of biorobotics, such as: social robotics, industrial robotics, assistive/rehabilitation/surgical robotics, neural engineering, cognitive systems, bio-inspired robots and their ethical, legal, social and economic implications. The Institute aims to act as a linking bridge among international centres of knowledge and to create a new concept of engineers that are scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and problem solvers. www.biorobotics.santannapisa.it
Media Contact:
Michele Nardini / michele.nardini@santannapisa.it / +39 050-883002

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is a world-first research program that connects the fields of computer vision and robotics. Formed in 2014, the Centre is the world’s largest collaboration across these fields with over 200 researchers spanning four Australian universities (QUT, The University of Adelaide, The Australian National University and Monash University) as well as overseas universities and research organisations including INRIA Rennes-Bretagne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, University of Toronto, and the University of Oxford. The Centre’s goal is to seamlessly integrate visual perception with action in order to overcome the final barrier to ubiquitous deployment of truly useful robots into society. Collaborative efforts, such as the one with Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, are key to the creation of breakthrough science and technologies. www.roboticvision.org
Media Contact:
Shelley Thomas / shelley.thomas@qut.edu.au / +61 7 3138 4265

PostedFebruary 14, 2019

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