PhD in Designing Human-Robot Relations in Manufacturing Contexts

University of Strathclyde, Design Manufacturing and Engineering Management

Apply by 5 August 2022 online here.

Start in 2022 for a 3-year PhD position.

Supervisors: Head of Department Professor Anja Maier and Head of Design Research Group Dr Andrew Wodehouse in collaboration with National Manufacturing Institute Scotland.

About the Project

Whilst Industry 4.0 has revolutionised the manufacturing world by providing manufacturers with opportunities to use advanced tools and technologies throughout the product lifecycle, expedite production times, deliver tailored customer support, however, using technology to optimise production is not enough. We need to advance connecting humans and machines, we need to advance designing human-robot relations. The term Industry 5.0 is beginning to be used in this context, with so far only anecdotal evidence of how human-robot relations such as collaboration between humans and smart systems might be underpinned by scientific evidence to enhance practical utility and to enable new ways of working.

This project will explore human-technology relations to deliver a new paradigm for collaborative robot (cobot) use in manufacturing contexts. Whilst a new generation of cobots have emerged to undertake basic manipulation tasks in close proximity to workers, their physical properties, functionality and interaction have received limited attention from a human perspective. A better understanding of the success factors in human-robot interactions is therefore required, that can support their implementation in supportive modes such as teaching and training and accessibility.

Industry 4.0 concerns cyber-physical systems that integrate the production process from planning through to retail. The utilisation of flexible robotic systems to integrate with manual activities provides huge potential. Issues such as trust and context have been highlighted as barriers to implementation, but much of the integration to now has been driven by technological concerns, knowledge and information management and the use of digital twinning. Industry 4.0 settled the smartness of automation to identify and optimise repeatable processes, however it is also mostly ignored the human factor. The deficiency of the human perspective caused inefficient collaboration between smart manufacturing and humans. Bringing scientific novelty, this research will therefore set out a more holistic approach to the use of cobots in the production process while maintaining and respecting the individual and nature of their work.

To achieve this, a review of stakeholders and their requirements will be conducted to identify and understand the social requirements, physical accessibility and quality of experience that need to be met in order to create a satisfactory relationship between the humans interacting with the robot on-site and in relation to specific tasks. The efficiency of this review of measurement of the human experience will be tested in an experimental setting, with the study consisting of well-defined independent and dependent variables, using psychological principles derived e.g. from visual attention theory and principles of technology acceptance and adoption in the interplay between designer intent and user experience.

In parallel, an assessment of the sensory and AI state-of-the-art will be utilised in order to understand and avoid the challenges of technical implementation and determination of the risk factors for human-robot collaboration. These stakeholder requirements will then be translated into technical specifications and general design requirements related to the form of the cobot, e.g. modes of interaction, anthropomorphism, body language, movements and gestures. A number of different configurations will be developed and tested in conjunction with DMEM’s existing Universal cobot and through NMIS’s facilities. A prototype configuration will then be tested. An example illustration using a sketch for a telepresence robot is included in the files uploaded.

To sum up, the objectives of the study in designing human-robot relations encompasses both physical design of advanced cobot form and function as well as designing interaction experience. Both will be tested in an experimental setting, which advances the design field through research study rigour and at the same time advances through design practice and industrial application.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded for UK students, if you are international and intend on applying, confirm in your email you are eligible to pay the difference of £17.5k per annum towards international fees.

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