Robots Can Do It, Humans Can Help


John Baillieul
John Baillieul

    The Department of Defense wants to know how well humans and robots can work together and has awarded  Professor John Baillieul (AME) a five-year, $7.4 million grant to find out.
    The grant is part of the Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative program, which supports research spanning several science and engineering specialties and includes a team of researchers with different areas of expertise. Under this grant, Baillieul and his collaborators will work to gain a better understanding of how issues of command and control change when mixed teams of humans and robots work together.
    “Not only do machines have to be able to react appropriately, but we have to understand how humans will react when machines take on more and more functions,” said Baillieul.
    The research has both military and civilian applications, from unmanned aircraft missions to underwater robots that seek out thermal gradients for ocean research. “If you take humans out of the loop —  in certain places — machines can perform better,” said Baillieul. For example, a robotic airplane could exert 20 Gs of force, while a manned flight must make gentler maneuvers.
    Even when a vehicle or aircraft operates without a human behind the steering wheel or in the cockpit, a team of people typically still maintains control, giving instructions at a supervisory level. Baillieul aims to improve the efficacy of these interactions between human decision making and robotic performance.
    Baillieul’s current research examines the interactions among groups of wheeled robots, which he will build upon to study what happens when humans enter the group. His collaborators include cognitive psychologists at Princeton University, a University of Washington team that works with unmanned aircraft and robotics researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara.