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In the future, humans may interact with artificially intelligent heavy machines, self-optimizing collaborative robots, unmanned terrestrial and aerial vehicles, and other autonomous systems, according to a team of Penn State engineers.
With the help of humans, these intelligent robots could perform strenuous and repetitive physical activities such as lifting heavy objects, delivering materials to the workers, monitoring the progress of construction projects, tying rebars, or laying bricks to build masonry walls.
However, this partnership can pose new safety challenges to workers, especially in the unstructured and dynamic environments of construction sites.
To a robot, a human operator is an unfailing partner. To a human, the robot’s level of awareness, intelligence and motorized precision can substantially deviate from reality, leading to unbalanced trust.
This creates a need for a change in designing collaborative construction robots toward ones that can monitor workers’ mental and physical stress and subsequently adjust their performance, according to Houtan Jebelli, assistant professor of architectural engineering.
Robots on construction sites are different from other industrial robots because they need to operate in highly fragmented and rugged workspaces with different layouts and equipment. In these environments, safe and successful delivery of work is not possible without human intervention, according to Jebelli.
This research on human-robot collaboration makes possible interaction between human and construction robots using brainwaves as indicators of workers’ mental activity. It is the first of its kind to integrate this technology with human-robot adaptation. The perceptual cues obtained from the brainwaves can also be used to develop a brain-computer interface approach (BCI) to create “hands-free” communication between construction robots and humans, mitigating the limitations of traditional robot control systems in other industries, said Jebelli.