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4: What Defines an HRI Problem?

The HRI problem is to understand and shape the interactions between one or more humans and one or more robots. Interactions between humans and robots are inherently present in all of robotics, even for so called autonomous robots – after all, robots are still used by, and are doing work, for humans. As a result, evaluating the capabilities of humans and robots, and designing the technologies and training that produce desirable interactions are essential components of HRI. Such work is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, requiring contributions from cognitive science, linguistics, and psychology; from engineering, mathematics, and computer science; and from human factors engineering and design.

Although analysis of anticipated and existing interaction patterns is essential, it is helpful to adopt the designer’s perspective by breaking the HRI problem into its constituent parts. In essence, a designer can affect five attributes that affect the interactions between humans and robots:

  • Level and behavior of autonomy,
  • Nature of information exchange,
  • Structure of the team,
  • Adaptation, learning, and training of people and the robot, and
  • Shape of the task.

Interaction, the process of working together to accomplish a goal, emerges from the confluence of these factors. The designer attempts to understand and shape the interaction itself, with the objective of making the exchange between humans and robots beneficial in some sense. We now discuss each of these attributes in detail, including references from the literature.