What is human-robot teaming, and what are its benefits?

Because today's robots can assist, not replace, human workers, IEEE member Todd Richmond discusses human-robot teaming and offers use cases demonstrating its benefits.

While robots have different skills than humans, in some ways, they are quite similar. Humans get tired; robots get tired -- batteries run low. Humans make mistakes; robots make mistakes -- usually under edge conditions, navigating or solving something they haven't seen before. Humans occupy physical space at some place and time, so do robots. Humans can make mistakes that have no consequences or severe consequences, so can robots.

The machine advantages of human-robot teaming are in reproducibility, or doing the exact same thing over and over again in the exact same manner with the exact same results; no need for sleep, assuming power is available; and no need for unions or human resources -- though this may change as robot AI approaches sentient capabilities of perceiving or feeling.

Robots and algorithms are good at executing simple or multistep actions, as well as difficult or dangerous tasks, as long as the parameters fall within their programming. By contrast, humans are often good at improvisation and dealing with edge conditions.

As a result, human-robot teaming can bring together the best of both worlds: The robot does repetitive, mundane or dangerous tasks, while the human deals with complexity and unexpected problems. A current example is robots used to find and deal with bombs and explosives. The robot is exposed to dangerous conditions -- immediate proximity to the device -- while the human does the analysis based on data from the robot and determines the best course of action.

Another example is telepresence robots. These bots can allow workers to telecommute in a more engaging and immersive way than video teleconferencing (VTC) or teleconferencing. Everyone knows the frustration of trying to take turns in a VTC or teleconference when two people try to speak, which is followed by silence, which is again followed by two people speaking and so on. Giving a remote person a physical presence in the room -- via the telepresence robot -- can create the sense that the person is there and can enable visual cues not possible on a voice call.

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