Responsible robots: Safety and productivity through situation awareness and risk perception

Responsible robots: Safety and productivity through situation awareness and risk perception


Audun Sanderud. Photo: Line Hamre.

Japan is known for advanced robotics technology. Audun Sanderud from the Trondheim based robotics company PPM defended in January his PhD at Chuo University in Tokyo, a unique way to get closer to the Japanese market. In his research work Sanderud has looked at a novel approach to safe and productive Human-Robot Collaboration (HRC), “Responsible Robots” – robots that share the responsibility for the productivity and safety in the interaction with human co-workers.

No longer should humans have the full responsibility to set proper safety rules for robots – it should be a joint venture between man and machine to avoid hazardous situations. In order to realize this, it is necessary to enhance the situation awareness of robotic systems by adopting risk perception, Sanderud states in his thesis summary. As a result, the Responsible Robots should “act proactively against dangers and it can in this way plan when to execute its different tasks to ensure the safety of the human operator while being productive.”

Reactive safety systems don’t avoid danger, but react when a danger is imminent. Not only do these situations feel disturbing for the human operator and breaks his/her concentration, but the robots themselves are forced to interrupt their tasks in order to avoid the humans. By enhancing the situation awareness through risk perception, Responsible Robots can observe human behavior, and assess, determine, and prioritize when to do a task based on its risk at that moment in time. It is safer, more productive and more comfortable for the human operator since the robot adapts to the operator’s work pattern, according to the thesis from Sanderud.

Studies in Japan
Taking a full PhD at a Japanese university is not main-stream for young Norwegians. The position of PPM in the Japanese market and its collaboration with Chuo University, as well as Japan’s reputation within robotic research were important factors for Sanderud.

–          When I was offered the PhD project at PPM I was more or less presented with a map of the world and asked where I wanted to go. We had some collaboration with universities in the UK, Hungary, Germany and Japan, and I was also tempted to go back to UC Berkeley where I did my exchange studies during my MSc. PPM had back then fully started the partnership with NACHI Fujikoshi after many years of negotiations, so the Japanese market was very hot for us. This, combined with Japan’s well-deserved reputation on robotic research, was enough for me to make up my mind, says Sanderud.

He does not regret his choice of leaving for Japan and expresses it has been extremely rewarding in many ways, such as people’s perception of robotics:

–          It is rather interesting to see HOW Japanese think about robots. While skepticism can be met in Europe, in Japan it’s more common the hear excitement and questions about when the robots are ready to assist their old grandmother. For me, keeping one foot in each of these mindsets have been very rewarding and helped me see robotics from different perspectives at the same time. Combining industrial thinking with academic thinking has also been a strong motivating factor for me, Sanderud adds.

Being proficient in Japanese language is not a prerequisite for studying in Japan according to his experience.

–          The cultural dimension really puts our traditional ways of doing things in a different perspective. I have great experience with studying in Japan, it really broadens your mind and exclusively good for you, underlines Sanderud.

He especially emphasizes how important understanding the cultural aspects is in international business and believes his experiences and development of personal relations to key technology and industry drivers in Japan will be valuable to PPM.

–          Our strategic partnerships and network in Japan have been door openers also to other countries, in Europe and Asia. Many companies have tremendous respect for the fact that we have been able to partner with a Japanese company, Sanderud ends.

His ability to understand what it takes to succeed and his personal network in Japan has for sure been an important investment for PPM and shown the Norwegian robotics footprint.

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