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ARTICLE: Enhancing Collaboration Between Humans and Robots: The Critical Role of Human Factors Research

POSTED: 30 Apr, 2024

This article is written by Jasper Vermeulen, PhD researcher at the Australian Cobotics Centre.


Integrating collaborative robots (cobots) in factory environments offers substantial benefits for businesses, including increased operational efficiency and greater product customisation. Compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots are often smaller in size, offering both versatility in various tasks and cost-efficiency. From a technological perspective, the use of cobots can lead to significant improvements in processes.

Cobots: a double-edged sword?

While the advantages of cobots are clear, from a human-centric perspective, a more nuanced conclusion is required. In reality, cobots can present both benefits and challenges for operators. Cobots can help reduce physical strain and mitigate repetitive tasks. On the other hand, cobots may also increase mental effort and working closely together with cobots could cause stress. Furthermore, depending on the workspace and task, working with cobots could affect an operator’s posture for better or worse. This complexity highlights the need for studies into the operator’s experiences of working alongside cobots.

The Discipline of Human Factors

Human Factors is a field dedicated to the study of interactions between humans, technologies, and their environments. This scientific discipline is crucial for enhancing the safety and efficiency of socio-technical systems through interdisciplinary research. Specifically, in the realm of human-cobot collaboration, the discipline of Human Factors plays a pivotal role. By integrating diverse research perspectives—from Robotics and Usability Engineering to Design and Psychology—this discipline enables researchers to dissect and understand complex interactions and complex systems. More importantly, it provides a framework for translating these insights into practical applications, offering concrete design recommendations and effective technology implementation strategies.

Beyond safety

While safety in Human-Robot Interaction has been a central point in Human Factors research, studies specifically addressing human-cobot collaboration are relatively new. Traditionally, much research was aimed at safeguarding the human operator, ensuring their physical safety. Nevertheless, if we aim to improve the overall system performance and well-being of operators, we need to consider additional factors, besides safety. For instance, cobots typically operate at lower speeds as a safety measure, however, experienced operators might prefer a faster pace depending on the task and context. This suggests that speed adjustments could be made without compromising safety.

Looking Forward

As the adoption of cobots continues to grow in industrial settings, it is crucial to deepen our understanding of the factors influencing human-cobot collaboration. Researchers in Human Factors can offer valuable insights by examining the diverse experiences of human operators in cobot-assisted tasks, considering individual differences, different kinds of tasks, various workspaces and cobot capabilities.

Ultimately, while cobots offer the potential to streamline processes, enhance customisation, and reduce costs, their implementation should also focus on improving human operators’ physical safety and mental health. These considerations emphasise the importance of adopting new technologies in genuinely advantageous ways, ensuring a balanced approach to innovation and worker well-being.

Stay Informed on Human Factors in Human-Robot Collaboration

If you’re interested in the latest advancements in human factors research within the field of Human-Robot Collaboration, make sure to follow the activities of Program 3.1 at the Australian Cobotics Centre. We conduct human-centred research using real-world case studies in partnership with industry leaders, focusing on the impact of human factors on operators in practical cobot applications. Our current projects include exploring cobot integration in manufacturing tasks and investigating human factors in robot-assisted surgeries.

Follow our progress on the Australian Cobotics Centre’s LinkedIn page for the latest updates and insights.

About the author

Jasper is a PhD researcher in Program 3 at the Australian Cobotics Centre. The aim of this Program and its included projects is to embed holistic design as a critical factor in creating seamless integration of humans and machines working together to improve human work conditions and environments, an ... more