Monday, August 24, 2015

Social HRI Summer School: talk on experimental challenges

I'm in Aland, Finland, at the moment taking part in the 2nd Summer School on Social Human-Robot Interaction (the first one took place in Cambridge in 2013). We're at the end of the first day, and what a fascinating first day it has been. Great talks from Tony Belpaeme, David Vernon and Yiannis Demiris. Between these I played support-act, and filled a slot in the programme with some background and observations on performing HRI experiments. The title/abstract of my talk:

"Experimental HRI: a wander through the challenges"
Running HRI experiments is difficult. Running HRI experiments outside of the lab, in the real world, can introduce even more difficulties. Having to deal with real people's quirks and foibles just adds to the challenges! However, there is so much of interest in doing just that: the development of better social robots, and to support the creation of robotic assistants and tools that can help people in their daily lives.
In this talk, an overview will be given of some of the constraints and trade-offs that may be encountered when implementing and running HRI experiments, but also of the opportunities that arise, and effects that can be taken advantage of. Examples from Child-Robot Interaction studies will serve to highlight these, including robots to help children learn, and running experiments in schools and hospitals.
Some of these issues may already be familiar or be intuitive, and will certainly be non-exhaustive, but the intention is to outline the basis of a toolkit of experimental HRI considerations that can be thrown at any attempts to release experiments into 'the wild'.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction CFP

I'm involved in the organisation of a symposium that will be held in April 2015: New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction. Part of the AISB 2015 convention in Canterbury (U.K.), this symposium seeks to bring together HRI researchers to present and discuss their work in the context of ongoing and emerging challenges in the field. It will be a two-day event, which will be held between the 20th and 22nd of April 2015 (the actual two days within that have yet to be confirmed).

In previous years there has been an emphasis on facilitating discussions on the various topics raised by the speakers, and this year is no different. There will be a couple of keynote talks, a range of talks based on accepted papers, and panel sessions - all interspersed with ample time to pick up and discuss the issues that come up. I went to the symposium last year, and found it an enjoyable and thought-provoking event. I therefore (somewhat predictably perhaps!) thoroughly recommend it.

We would be very happy to encourage anyone in the field to submit a paper - indeed, even those from outside the field if they have something interesting/relevant to say! Please see the submissions page for more instructions. And then when you would eventually like to submit a paper, then you can use our submission system (hosted by EasyChair).

Looking forward to seeing you at the symposium!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


At the beginning of this month, I formally started work on the EU FP7 DREAM project (although the project itself started in April this year). Given that ALIZ-E finished at the end of August, this fit very well for me personally, as it means that I am able to stay in Plymouth. It is coordinated by the University of Skovde (Sweden), with Plymouth (PI Tony Belpaeme) as one of seven partners who between us cover a wide range of expertise. There are two standard robot platforms that will be used as part of the project: the Aldebaran Nao (with which I have plenty of experience in ALIZ-E), and Probo (a green soft-bodied and trunked robot developed by VUB), although the Nao will be the primary focus of development.

(From the nice new flashy project website) The DREAM project...
...will deliver the next generation robot-enhanced therapy (RET). It develops clinically relevant interactive capacities for social robots that can operate autonomously for limited periods under the supervision of a psychotherapist. DREAM will also provide policy guidelines to govern ethically compliant deployment of supervised autonomy RET. The core of the DREAM RET robot is its cognitive model which interprets sensory data (body movement and emotion appearance cues), uses these perceptions to assess the child’s behaviour by learning to map them to therapist-specific behavioural classes, and then learns to map these child behaviours to appropriate robot actions as specified by the therapists.
My work on this will be on the (robot) cognitive and behavioural aspects of this goal. While this is a slight departure from my memory-centred work in ALIZ-E, it remains in the context of child-robot interaction, retains a focus on application-focused development (though for autistic children rather than diabetic children), and maintains an emphasis on achieving autonomous operation (although in the context of supervised interactions). There is an exciting programme of aims and goals in place, and a very good group of partner institutions, so I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

AISB Symposium on New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction last week

At the end of last week, I was at the AISB 2014 symposium on New Frontiers in HRI, held at Goldsmiths College, London. Held over two days (well, not quite full days...), it was modestly sized (around 30 on the first day, fewer on the second), but with plenty of time given over to discussion, it was a good size to have the majority of people engage in talking and discussing with one another. The range of topics was quite eclectic (within the HRI theme of course), but there were enough people with wide enough interests/experience to keep the discussion going to greater extent than I was expecting - sometimes, I find that scheduled discussions fall a bit flat with a few too many awkward silences, but that wasn't the case here.

I gave a little overview of my work on applying a memory-centred cognition perspective to social human-robot interaction. I don't think I did particularly well at summarising the particular approach I take, but reckon I at least managed to get across some of the broad ideas involved. Seeing as my starting point is relatively uncontroversial (my assertion that memory is in some way involved in all aspects of human-robot interaction - indeed any social interaction), this was what I hoped. In any case, I tried to make a clear distinction between the the theoretical framework I was proposing, and the actual computation model I have developed to start to explore this question. The reason for this is that I know there are flaws in my implementation (as a model, this is in principle inevitable), but I didn't want people to dismiss the underlying idea as a consequence of this. The general panel discussion afterwards was mostly centred on the role of emotion in HRI (which was a fascinating discussion), but there was a little on these memory-centred ideas too, in which I tried to reinforce the theory rather than my implementation of it (who knows how successfully!).

Elsewhere in the symposium, the one general AISB keynote lecture I went to was given by Humberto Maturana. While it was given over skype (bit too far for him to come over in person...), it was still great to hear him speak in (virtual) person, as someone whose ideas had been such a profound influence on multiple fields of research, and of course my own. It was quite a wide-ranging talk, encompassing many different fields, but all tied together with the central theme of autopoiesis for which he is known. He structured this around four man questions: (1) what kind of systems are robots; (2) what kind of systems are living systems; (3) how does the nervous system operate; and (4) how do we operate as self-conscious beings? The result was an eclectic mix of topics (from life and death, to language, to ethics, and more besides), but which still maintained a coherency that I could follow (as far as I could understand at least!).

Humberto Maturana giving one of the AISB 2014 plenary talks over Skype.

Finally, just a quick note on the workshop I organised last month at the HRI conference with Greg Trafton on Cognitive Architectures for HRI. It was very well subscribed to (over 30 people for the session, which compared very favourably to other workshops running simultaneously), which was more than we were expecting. The invited speakers (Yiannis Demiris, Matthias Scheutz, and Angelo Cangelosi) provided a very good structure, covering a range of topics and perspectives that (according to the various comments from people afterwards) were engaging and indeed appreciated in terms of providing a different take that some were familiar with. Indeed, this also proved to be one of the drawbacks to the workshop: given the half day (and a few little technical issues...) we didn't have the time for discussions of any great length. I take it as a good sign though that people were dissapointed by this, and is certainly something that could be rectified if we were to organise another one.