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Royal College of Art Designers Imagine Future Human-Robot Collaboration in the Workplace

RCA Master of Research (MRes) Design Pathway students are showcasing two prototypes in a symposium and display People @ Work at the Barbican from 3–5 June as part of Life Rewired, a season exploring what it means to be human when technology is changing everything. HEXIS Touch is a robotic glove that enables the wearer to feel the movements, dexterity and pressures of a classically trained pianist – and Pando is a robotic plant for your desk that grows new leaves and blossoms as you learn new skills, encouraging long life learning in the workplace.

Pando
Pando, Priyadarshini Banati, Kypriani Bartzoka, Rime Cherai, Jonathan Gayomali and Oliver Luehr
Much of the current conversation and debate around future technologies and automation at work focuses on robots replacing human jobs – these prototypes however, are part of a wider project considering how the next generation of automation in the workplace can be designed to actually benefit workers.

‘The prototypes demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in solving future problems and challenges in the work place’, commented Dr Laura Ferrarello, MRes RCA Design Pathway Leader. ‘As these projects show, there is great potential in the space where tradition intersects with innovation – with surprising, creative solutions that challenge the way we think about interacting with each other and technology.’

‘What’s unique about the RCA – and MRes RCA in particular, as a place to study and research, is this bridging of the arts and humanities with science and technology, which can be seen in this project really works.’

From supporting physical or cognitive skills, to making the most of neurodiversity and a range of physical abilities, the project addresses how the next generation of automation can support people in the workplace to collaborate, learn, develop knowledge and pursue their ambitions. More broadly the designs provoke thoughts of what our future social relationships with robots might be, and explore the bigger question of what makes humans human.

HEXIS Touch
HEXIS Touch, Judella Conquet, Scott Heron, Antejia Klimek, Xiuji Li and Sicong Xiao
Dr Sina Sareh, Academic Leader, Robotics commented: ‘These designs are a great example of the RCA’s growing expertise and research in various aspects of human-robot interaction. They demonstrate how the combination of design and robotics can lead to the creation of impactful research themes and capacities that can mutually benefit respective research communities through foreseeing future user requirements and better understanding technological advances and remaining limitations. Our continuing research with Dr Ferrarello and colleagues will build on these concepts to create novel design-led solutions that can support humans in the future workplace.’

The prototypes are the most recent human-robot collaboration to emerge from the RCA’s robotics laboratory. They follow on from the soft robotic steering wheel developed by RCA MRes Design researchers and designers last year, and a host of ground-breaking RCA projects including: Dani Clode’s Third Thumb (Design Products, 2017), life-saving Ellys designed as part of the LRF Grand Challenge (RCA MRes research, 2017), and an octopus-inspired soft artificial sucker that acts as a robotic anchoring module (Sina Sareh, RCA Robotic Leader, 2017).

HEXIS Touch 

HEXIS Touch
HEXIS Touch, Judella Conquet, Scott Heron, Antejia Klimek, Xiuji Li and Sicong Xiao
Hexis touch was created by Judella Conquet, Scott Heron, Antejia Klimek, Xiuji Li and Sicong Xiao. It explores how robotics can facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge (knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing or verbalisation) through encoding, transferring, and decoding it in a physical way with a sensorised, wearable glove.

The robotic glove on display at the Barbican has been designed to capture data in the form of dexterity and pressure exerted by a classically trained pianist. Visitors will be able to observe as the skilled hands of a pianist move across musical keys, the robotic glove captures the pressure and movements, and custom software can animate and record the information for post processing and analysis. The results of such analysis can be used to transfer the tacit knowledge of a skilled player to a new learner.

The design of the glove supports a wide range of applications across fields and disciplines from the preservation and sharing of traditional craft processes, to supporting knowledge transfer between skilled individuals within industries such as medicine, and as a learning aid in educational environments. The technology has the potential to transcend spatial, time and language constraints of knowledge exchange through the use of augmented and virtual reality platforms.

Pando

Pando
Pando, Priyadarshini Banati, Kypriani Bartzoka, Rime Cherai, Jonathan Gayomali and Oliver Luehr
Pando is a Biophilia-inspired service for learning and sharing in the workplace created by Priyadarshini Banati, Kypriani Bartzoka, Rime Cherai, Jonathan Gayomali and Oliver Luehr. Based on the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature, Pando is a hybrid robotic-plant that reacts accordingly to an individual growing their skills – through the leaves opening and flowers blossoming.

Learning with Pando is a playful, curious and sensory experience based in our natural habitat. An app connects the learner’s progression with acquiring new skills and the robotic plant flourishes or wilts accordingly.

Pando recognizes the importance of learning within the workplace – but also its economic value as it enables a greater number of workers to adopt relevant technologies and adapt in rapidly changing work places.


HEXIS Touch
HEXIS Touch, Judella Conquet, Scott Heron, Antejia Klimek, Xiuji Li and Sicong Xiao

People @ Work
The prototypes will be on display from 3–5 June, 12–8pm at the Life Rewired Hub, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS.

Interactive workshops with Pando will take play on Tuesday 4 June between 11am–4pm.
A live music performance using the glove will take place at 5pm on Monday 3 June and the glove will be free to try out throughout the display.

The prototypes will also be showcased and demonstrated at a symposium with WORKTECH Academy, Monday 3 June 2019, 2–6pm at the Barbican, which will bring together a panel of experts to discuss the future of work and robotics.  Alongside Dr Ferrarello and Dr Sareh, the speakers include: Peter Bloom, Head of the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University, Co-Founder of the research group REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment, and Futures); Kevin McCullagh, Owner of Plan; Jeremy Myerson, Director of the WORKTECH Academy; and Anna Tomas, Institute of Future of Work Director and Funder.

Register for the symposium here


Find out more about MRes RCA: Design Pathway and how to apply.


Dr Ferrarello is leading an executive education workshop Designing Services & Products with Artificial Intelligence on 12 July at the RCA. This one-day workshop is designed to improve business and creative collaborative managerial skills through AI-powered services and products, bringing a competitive edge to participants' business or brand.