Novel Study Explores How Robots Grab Things From Humans

The research is seeking to make truly collaborative robots that mimic human interactions in handing things over.
Loukia Papadopoulos

The field of robotics keeps making incredible strides of advancements such as robots that can play Jenga or even robots that help maintain other robots. But one thing that has not yet been explored is how robots and humans can grab things from each other.


Human-robot interactions

Now, a research team from The BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision have decided to explore this topic with novel research.

"We realized that, to date, insufficient attention has been given to the way a robot grasps an object in studies on human-robot interaction," explains Francesca Cini, Ph.D. student of The BioRobotics Institute and one of the two principal authors of the paper.

"This aspect is very pivotal in this field. For example, when we pass a screwdriver knowing that the receiver should use it, we leave the handle free to facilitate the grasp and the subsequent use of the object. The aim of our research is to transfer all these guiding principles onto a robotic system so that they will be used to select a correct grasp type and to facilitate the exchange of objects."


To achieve this, the team analyzed how humans grab and take things from each other. They looked carefully at grasp choice and hand placement depending on object types.

Needless to say, those interactions we take for granted every day are much more complex than we think. One thing the researchers realized is that people pass things in collaborative ways.

For instance, they will hand another human an object from the correct side that it should be grasped. They do this to allow the receiver to use it as it should be used.

Collaborative robotics

Now, the researchers are hoping to pass on these grabbing techniques to robots in order to ensure they interact with humans in natural ways.

"Collaborative Robotics is the next frontier of both industrial and assistive robotics," says Marco Controzzi, researcher of The BioRobotics Institute and principal investigator of Human-Robot Interaction Lab.

"For this reason, we need a new generation of robots designed to interact with humans in a natural way. These results will allow us to instruct the robot to manipulate objects as a human collaborator through the introduction of simple rules."

The team is determined to make these human actions we take for granted applicable and possibly even inherent in robots. Needless to say, their goals are quite ambitious.

"Real-world manipulation remains one of the greatest challenges in robotics and we strive to be the world leader in the research field of visually-guided robotic manipulation," says Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Director Peter Corke.

"This research collaboration with Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna forms a vital partnership towards our goal of overcoming the last barrier to the ubiquitous deployment of truly useful robots into society."

The study, entitled "On the choice of grasp type and location when handing over an object," published in Science Robotics. 

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