HCAIS Deep Dive July 2022

From Human-Robot Interaction towards Transdisciplinary Shaping of Worker-Robot Relations


Labour shortages are urgent news, especially for physical work processes (care, production, logistics, retail, hospitality). Robotics are often-cited as a promising solution, to increase productivity by relieving workers of dull, dirty and dangerous work. But what is really at stake is job quality: the most technically advanced robotics won’t matter if people run away screaming from your sector… Unfortunately, too often, commercially available robots lead to an increasingly standardized workplace, resulting in work that is boring or too high-paced.

The next generation of robotics are cognitive robots, powered by learning algorithms, that have the potential to cope with many sources of variability. Now is the time to explore if we can use this emerging technology to not only replace human behavior in real-world environments, but to empower workers, and learn together. 

During this HCAIS Deep Dive, Abbink will elaborate on his vision that it is possible to use robots and AI in the workplace in such a way that they can make work more fun, inspiring and dignified at all levels of the company – rather than just more efficient. Not to replace workers, but to really work with them. Abbink has a democratic, social and holistic view on sustainable relations between workers and robots, based on exploring the impact of interaction designs choices on job quality and productivity, so that they reinforce each other instead of replacing each other. This requires transdisciplinary research: robot engineers need to work together with designers, psychologists and ethnographers, and - most importantly - with and for the people that will be affected by the technologies we create. 


About Prof. David Abbink

David Abbink is a full Professor in Haptic Human-Robot Interaction at the Department of Cognitive Robotics of the Faculty of 3mE at TU Delft.  There he heads the Delft Haptics Lab and the section Human-Robot Interaction. He also leads AiTech, TU Delft’s interdisciplinary research program bridging philosophy, design & engineering approaches to address how to analyze and realize meaningful human control over of autonomous technologies.

Abbink is scientific director of the transdisciplinary research centre FRAIM. With the research centre FRAIM, he aims to jointly shape the future of physical work. Studying the impact of robotic prototypes  means not only integrating different academic perspectives (social sciences, engineering, design) but also And how can we make phsywork, including low-skilled work, more fun and more enjoyable, and keep it human, with the arrival of robots?