Trusting robots

Prof. Helen Hastie
Professor Helen Hastie

Engineered systems are increasingly being used autonomously, making decisions and taking actions without human intervention. These Autonomous Systems are already being deployed in industrial sectors but in controlled scenarios, for example in static automated production lines or fixed sensors. They start to get into difficulties when the task increases in complexity or the environment is uncontrolled, like using drones for offshore windfarm inspection or where there is a high interaction with people.

The vision is that these systems learn situations where trust is typically lost unnecessarily, adapting this prediction for specific people and contexts. Trust will be managed through transparent interaction, increasing the confidence of the stakeholders to use Autonomous Systems, meaning that they can be adopted in scenarios never before thought possible, such as doing the jobs that endanger humans.

Professor Helen Hastie leads the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) Node in Trust. This Node is creating a UK research centre of excellence for trust that will inform the design of Autonomous Systems going forward, ensuring that they are widely used and accepted in a variety of applications. It will explore how to best establish, maintain and repair trust by incorporating the subjective view of human trust towards Autonomous Systems, thus maximising their positive societal and economic benefits. 

Read more about TAS, which is funded through the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund and delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). 

Real-world impact

Professor Hastie is joint academic lead, with Professor Yvan Petillot, of the National Robotarium. A key strategic project within this centre of excellence is ORCA (Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets) Hub, which is working with industry partners to develop solutions to improve safety offshore, for example, using underwater robots to work remotely on offshore windfarms and tidal turbines. This has unveiled a new method of communication that allows machines and humans to speak the same language and understand each other's actions in real time.

Named MIRIAM (Multimodal Intelligent inteRactIon for Autonomous systeMs), this is a significant breakthrough that enables people to work with autonomous robots. This is to be used by the original OGRIP (Offshore Ground Robotics Industrial Pilot) robot developed by Total E&P UK, Austrian tech firm Taurob and the Aberdeen-based Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC). OGRIP is designed to support exploration and production operations in increasingly harsh and challenging conditions, including extreme cold, arid climates and isolated locations.

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Key information

Helen Hastie