Attending Robo-Philosophy

robo2018_bannerbig.jpgLast week I attended the Robo-Philosopohy conference hosted by University of Vienna. The conference theme was:  Envisioning Robots In Society: Politics, Power, And Public Space. I was delighted by the 2 keynotes  I manged to attend by Guy Standing and Hiroshi Ishiguro (very unfortunately I missed the keynote of Joanna Bryson, but I have already heard 2 brilliant keynotes from her at other venues!). Also the talks and workshops offered me new and different perspectives on my work in Human-Robot Interaction. I hope in future to see an even closer collaboration of philosophy and robotics…we need a way to implement these thoughts in actual AI systems. One of the promising talks on how to bring social practices and robotics closer together was given by Aurelie Clodic from CNRS-LAAS.

Unfortunately, for personal reasons I could not give my announced talk entitled:

Laundry and Garbage collection – a reasonable scenario for a care facility robot?  

However, if you are interested in my thoughts, I am happy to share my audio supplemented slides with you!


Social Robotics in the United Arab Emirates

alshaya_uaeSo last week, my husband, the little one and I spent some time in the desert. More precisely in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain). I attended the 3rd Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics as invited speaker (

The Emirates itself were an amazing experience. Visiting a university that has a female and male campus and the lecture room a female and male entrance was a very new experience for me. In general culturally the emirates and their short history as a nation were more than fascinating for me (my sociological roots came through again making me curious on the societal developments of this culture…I could spend days reading up on it and watching documentaries).

Besides the fact that all the sunshine and the warm temperatures were more than healthy for my body and soul, the symposium was really interesting  and offered an open floor for discussion on social robotics. My talk was entitled: Sociability vs Utility – Where are we heading in Social Robotics? Here is the abstract:

My talk will focus around a question that is recently more and more present in my head: What are actual useful tasks for Social Robots in future? I will present an overview on my 10 years of research on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). Being a sociologist in training, I have started my work in HRI in trying to define from a sociological perspective, if robots can be social by definition. I will explain to what degree robots can fulfil the sociological criteria of “social”, namely forms of grouping, binding, mutuality, and reflexivity. I will continue with the presentation of use cases for Social Robotics in projects I was involved and will reflect on the usefulness of the robot’s task in relation to the focus on social cues for intuitive and natural interaction. I will present selected studies of the FP7 EU project “The Interactive Urban Robot (IURO)” and FP7 EU project “HOBBIT – The mutual care robot. The goal of IURO was to find the way to a designated place in town without any previous map knowledge, just by retrieving information from asking pedestrians for directions. The goal of the Hobbit robot was to enable older people to stay longer in their homes, following three main criteria: (1) Emergency detection and handling, (2) fall prevention, (3) providing a “feeling of being safe and supported”. Reflecting on these exemplary studies will lead to the ethical implications of Social Robot design, especially the potential risks involved when designing robots that show “artificial attachment”. I will present the Triple-A Model for ethical risk identification including a first taxonomy we developed in order to classify existing Social Robotics use cases. My talk will close with a discussion on how the utility of a robot and its sociability interrelate and on future application areas for Social Robots. This will involve thoughts on (1) how technology determinism shapes our use cases for Social Robotics, (2) why sociability is not self-sufficient for a robot to be accepted and sustainably used, and (3) how we can take a step back and think a bit more out of the box what reasonable useful jobs Social Robots could do for us in future, going beyond the multi-functional housekeeper scenario.


AssistMe Project ended

So the AssistMe assistme_01_3c3c08954cproject is finally over. AssistMe was a 3-year long endeavor to develop an industry 4.0 system for human-robot cooperation in a factory environment. The iterative development of the system featured (1) an off-the-shelf robotic arm controlled via a touch- panel (remote-control), (2) a robotic arm featuring physical human-robot interaction (pHRI), and (3) a robotic arm featuring a tangible user interface (TUI) for control. Each iteration step was evaluated by five industry workers for two different use cases. We used established analysis methods, namely behavior observation and User Experience (UX) questionnaires. The goal of the project was to find out (a) if there is a difference in the UX between the different robot versions, and (b) to identify improvements over time, as well as open questions and dead-ends in order to (c) provide concrete suggestions for future robot-human cooperation in the Industry 4.0 context. Our user studies revealed an improvement over time of UX in terms of usability, temporal demands, and performance expectancy based on concrete ergonomic, supportive artificial intelligence, and intuitive simplified interaction.

Media coverage can be found here (unfortunately only in German).


…after my maternity leave, I won’t go back to my old institute (ACIN Institute of Automation and Control) at the TU Wien. After the second trial, I was granted the Elise Richter Programme for senior post-docs from FWF Austrian funding agency.  The Elise-Richter Programme is the follow-up to the Hertha-Firnberg Programme  for “extremely well qualified female scientists who are working towards a career in universities”. So the Austrian academic system gives me another 3 years to prove myself 😉

From October onward I will be affiliated with the Human-Computer Interaction Group Institute for Design and Assessment of Technology. My three-years grant is on research about Long-term Human-Robot Interaction. The project will have its own website as soon as I am officially back at work.

I had a wonderful time at the Vision4Robotics group and will definitively miss my colleagues a lot. However, great things never come from comfort zones…