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3: Emergence of HRI as a Field

Although there is much work that can be considered HRI, the multi-disciplinary field started to emerge in the mid 1990s and early years of 2000. Key numerous events occurred in this time frame, with the main catalyst being a multi-disciplinary approach; researchers from robotics, cognitive science, human factors, natural language, psychology, and human-computer interaction started to come together at these events specifically recognizing the importance of working together.

The earliest scientific meeting, which started in 1992 and continues annually, is the IEEE International Symposium on Robot & Human Interactive Communication (RoMan). Although recently, this conference has attracted a more multi-disciplinary research community, historically it has been heavily dominated by the robotics discipline. In 2000, the IEEE/Robotics Society of Japan created the International Conference on Humanoid Robots which highlights anthropomorphic robots and robotic behaviors.

From the late 1990s until recently, there have been many workshops and conference tracks dedicated to HRI, including ones associated with the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s (AAAI) Symposia Series, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Robotics Systems and Sciences, the IEEE/Robotics Society of Japan International Conference on Intelligent Robot and Systems, among others, and the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

In 2001, the U.S. National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored a workshop on human-robot interaction, organized by Dr. Robin Murphy and Dr. Erica Rogers [40]. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together a highly multidisciplinary group of researchers working in areas close to HRI, and to help identify the issues and challenges in HRI research. Although much research had been done prior to this event, some consider it to be seminal in the emergence of the field as its own discipline. A second NSF workshop was held in 2006 [41].

In July of 2004, IEEE-RAS and the International Foundation of Robotics Research (IFRR) sponsored a summer school on “Human-Robot Interaction.” This event brought together six experts from the field of HRI and approximately 30 Ph.D. students for a week in Volterra Italy for 4 intensive days of lectures and events. A similar event that has been held annually since 2004 is the Rescue Robotics Camp (see, for example, [42, 43]). About the same time, a series of special issues dedicated to HRI began to appear in journals [44-48].

In 2005, the US National Research Council sponsored a workshop entitled “Interfaces for Ground and Air Military Robots” [49]. The workshop discussed emerging interface and autonomy themes that could be used across multiple scales to support primarily remote interaction of humans and robots.

The Japan Association for the 2005 World Exposition conducted a Robot Project at EXPO 2005 that featured a wide range of robots[50]. Guide, cleaning, service, and assistive robots were among the many robots that were featured.

Starting in 2006, the ACM International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction was created to specifically address the multidisciplinary aspects of HRI research. Reflecting this multidisciplinary nature, the 2007 conference was co-sponsored by the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction, the ACM Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence, and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS), with co-technical sponsorship from AAAI, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society. Unlike RoMan, the HRI Conference is single track. Associated with the HRI conference is a NSF-funded student workshop.
Other conferences have had a strong interest in HRI including the following: the Humanoid Robotics workshops; the IEEE International Workshop on Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics; and the Performance Metrics for Intelligent Systems workshop.

In 2006, the European Land-Robot Trial (ELROB) was created to “provide an overview of the European state-of-the-art in the field of [Unmanned Ground Vehicles]” [51]. Such systems frequently included robust user interfaces intended for field conditions in challenging environments, such as those faced in military and first responder domains.

Another big influence in the emergence of HRI has been competitions. The two with the greatest impact have been the AAAI Robotics Competition and Exhibition and the Robocup Search and Rescue competition. The Sixth AAAI Robot Competition in 1997 had the first competition specifically designed for HRI research called “Hors d’Oeuvres Anyone?” The goal of the competition was for a robot to serve snacks to attendees of the conference during the conference reception. This event was repeated in 1998. Starting in 1999, a new grand challenge event was introduced. For this competition, a team’s robot had to be dropped off at the front door of the conference venue and, through interaction with people, find its way to the registration desk, register for the conference, and then find its way at the correct time to a place where it was to give a presentation. This task was designed to be hard enough to take many years to accomplish, helping to drive research (see, for example, [52]). In recent years this conference held several general human-interaction events.

In some cases, an application domain has helped to draw the field together. Three very influential areas are robot-assisted search and rescue, assistive robots, and space exploration. Literature from each of these domains is addressed further in a subsequent section. Robot-assisted search and rescue has been a domain in which the robotics field has worked directly with the end users which, in this case, consists of specially trained rescue personnel. The typical search and rescue situation involves using a small robot to enter into a potentially dangerous rubble pile to search for victims of a building collapse. The robots are typically equipped with a video camera and possibly chemical and temperature sensors, and may sometimes be equipped with a manipulator with which they can alter the environment. The goal is to quickly survey an area that would otherwise be unsafe for a human searcher to enter, and gather information about victim location and structural stability. Because of the inherently unstructured nature of search and rescue domains, the interactions between the human and the robot are very rich. Consequently, many HRI issues are addressed in the problem, and several ongoing competitions are held to encourage robotics researchers to participate [53-55].

Assistive robot systems seek to provide physical, mental, or social support to persons who could benefit from it such as the elderly or disabled. Assistive robotics is important to HRI because it emphasizes proximate interaction with potentially disabled persons. HRI challenges from this domain include providing safe physical contact or moving within very close proximity. The challenges also include supporting effective social interactions through cognitive and emotive computing, and through natural interactions such as gesture and speech. Although sometimes referred to by names other than robots, the types of robots/machines used in assistive applications vary widely in their physical appearance, and include wheelchairs, mobile robots with manipulators, animal-like robots, and humanoids [56-59]. Because of the close proximity and sometimes long-term interactions, appropriate HRI may be sensitive to cultural influences [60, 61].

Space robotics has also been an important domain for HRI because of the challenges that arise under such extreme operating conditions. These challenges include operating a remote robot when the time lag can be a significant factor, or interacting in close proximity such as when a robot assistant helps an astronaut in exploring the surface of a planetary body. A typical anticipated situation is a geological study that involves prolonged work on the surface of a planetary body, possibly using specialized sensors such as ground-penetrating radar and specialized manipulators such as a drill and hammer [62]. Information gathered by the robot needs to be either returned to an astronaut co-located with the robot or a ground-based science team, who then form real-time hypotheses that are used to modify the behavior of the robot.