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New £1.2m research project to make robots more trustworthy

UK universities and industry partners are to collaborate on a new £1.2m project which aims to ensure future robotic systems can be trusted by humans.
The Universities of Bristol, the West of England, Liverpool and Hertfordshire will work with industry partners, the British Automation & Robot Association (BARA) and RU Robots Limited, on the project, which will run over three-and-a-half-years and explore how robots can interact with humans in a safe and trustworthy manner. The study is funded by a grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Robots are increasingly being developed to serve as active ‘helpers’ in situations where humans require assistance, such as personal care robots helping patients during recovery.
Although there has been some research carried out on safety of robotic assistants during interaction with humans, it’s still crucial to understand not only whether the robot makes safe moves, but whether it knowingly or deliberately makes unsafe moves.
If human-robot teamwork is to become viable and productive, the humans involved must be fully confident in the robot’s behaviour.
Bristol University’s Dr Kerstin Eder is the principal investigator for the study, which has been named the 'Trustworthy Robotic Assistants' project, she comments:
“Safety assurance of robots is an urgent research challenge that must be addressed before many products that already exist in labs can be unlocked for mass production. This requires collaboration of verification experts with roboticists and those who specialize in human-robot interaction, so that a human-centric, holistic approach to safety assurance can be developed.”
‘BERT’, one of the robotic platforms being used on the project, was originally developed as part of a research project on Cooperative Human Robot Interactive Systems, at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.  BERT has been used to examine manufacturing scenarios.
Professor Tony Pipe, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the Univerisity of the West of England, said: “Working on this new research project with colleagues across the UK will enable us to tackle the crucial issue of developing robotic systems which can work safely with humans.  This is a vital step in developing robots for a whole range of functions for the future, where they will be useful to humans.”
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