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Meet our E.P.I.C. Researcher, James Dwyer

James Dwyer is a PhD researcher based at Queensland University of Technology and his project is part of the Human-Robot-Interaction Program at the Australian Cobotics Centre. We interviewed James recently to find out more about why he does what he does.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself and your research with the Centre?

Beginning my academic journey with a Bachelor of Psychology, I have always been deeply interested in human behaviour and the ways in which people communicate and connect with each other. After finishing this degree and entering the working world, I found a job in customer support, where I encountered firsthand the frustrations caused by poorly designed products and the impact technology has on people’s daily lives, sparking my interest in studying Industrial Design. Through this degree, I became interested in human-centred design as a way of approaching the design process to better meet user needs. My transition into design research, particularly focusing on HRI, was a natural progression, driven by a desire to blend my interests in people, technology, and prototyping as a research tool. At the Australian Cobotics Centre, my PhD research aims to develop an HRC prototyping toolkit that supports collaborative design approaches within manufacturing and surgical contexts. This work seeks to fill a crucial gap by integrating end-user needs and context of use into the design of cobots through collaborative design approaches. Working with industry partners Stryker and Cook Medical will be an invaluable part of this process, grounding my research in practical application and amplifying its impact. In the long term, I envision my research contributing significantly to the field by advancing HRC methodologies, promoting a more human-centred approach to HRC research, and broadening the scope of cobot applications across various industries.

Why did you decide to be a part of the Australian Cobotics Centre?

My decision to join the Australian Cobotics Centre was born from my interest in the Project 2.2 research topic, “Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) prototyping toolkit.” This topic aligned with my interest in prototyping as a research approach and engaging with end users through collaborative design processes, particularly in the context of HRI research. This project extends the work of my master’s research, where I developed a virtual reality-based HRI prototype. This experience was enlightening, presenting me with numerous ideas for future projects and highlighting the vast possibilities that Extended Reality (XR) technologies hold for prototyping and design research. This initial interest led me to look further into the Australian Cobotics Centre. What resonated with me about the Centre was its commitment to people-focused and innovative research. The Centre’s emphasis on collaboration between academia and industry also aligned with my belief in the importance of applied research that tackles real-world problems.

  • What project are you most proud of throughout your career and why?

One of the highlights of my career so far has been my involvement as the creative lead in the Soundline Project during my time with the ARS Electronica Futurelab Academy at QUT. The project explored how technology can facilitate group flow, transforming festival cues, lines and waiting areas, which might be considered an ‘error’ in the festival experiences, into playful and creative opportunities. Soundline was designed to allow people at any level of musical proficiency to contribute meaningfully to a collective soundscape through physical interaction with five different musical instruments. The instruments allowed participants to create music through physical movement, fostering a unique collaborative experience between the performers and audience members. This project is particularly dear to me for several reasons. It was a testament to the power of interdisciplinary collaboration, combining elements of design, technology, music, and dance performance. The hands-on experience of guiding the project from its initial concept to its public execution was also invaluable, teaching me the importance of an iterative design approach that integrated different perspectives and skill sets. Furthermore, the recognition of our work as a finalist for the IxDA Interaction Awards in 2019 was an affirming milestone, underscoring the project’s impact and the potential of interdisciplinary practice in design practice and technological development.

  • What do you hope the long-term impact of your work will be?

My research aims to address a critical gap in Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) by developing a prototyping toolkit that supports collaborative design approaches with end-users, a facet often overlooked in current practices. The need for a more human-centred approach in HRC research is evident, as current trends lean heavily towards technology-centric methods. The socio-cultural and socio-technical challenges presented by implementing cobots in manufacturing and surgical contexts necessitate a balance between technological advancements and human needs. By advocating for a design process that respects and integrates worker preferences and concerns, my work contributes to a more inclusive and considerate approach to cobot implementation, potentially leading to safer, more comfortable work environments. The development of a prototyping toolkit that encourages co-design could significantly enhance interdisciplinary collaboration, bridging gaps between fields such as engineering, social science, and design. By making the design process more inclusive and participatory, this toolkit has the potential to influence broader discussions on technology implementation, worker participation, and the ethical considerations of integrating robotics in the workplace.

  • Aside from your research, what topic could you give an hour-long presentation on with little to no preparation?

Beyond my academic pursuits, my passions are varied and deeply rooted in the explorative and speculative realms of science fiction and design and the creative pursuits of music and art. This fascination extends to the disciplined and intricate world of martial arts, where I have spent half my life trying to achieve some level of proficiency but have gained, at the very least, a great appreciation for the mental discipline the practice instils in my daily life. Music also holds a special place in my heart. While I still struggle with theory, the process of song construction and the communal experience of improvisation captivates me, providing a unique form of collective engagement and reflection. Art, too, is a refuge for me, albeit my sketches may not win awards. The immersive process of striving to capture the right expression or scene is a form of meditation, a way to lose myself in creativity. Similarly, the joy of understanding processes through the act of making or deconstructing complex ideas is a thread that runs through all my hobbies. While I might describe myself as a “jack of all trades and master of none”, this eclectic mix of interests is interconnected, each informing and enriching the others; these activities reflect and reinforce my approach to life and work, revealing my weaknesses and areas for growth. Rather than talking about these topics, however, I often find I am more interested in delving into the depths of someone else’s expertise. In this, I find myself in the role of the perpetual student, eager to absorb and understand more.

CONGRATULATIONS James – Confirmation of Candidature

We extend our congratulations to James Dwyer, our PhD researcher, for successfully completing his confirmation seminar on March 20th.

James’s thesis, titled “How Can We Design for Human-Robot Collaboration: the Need for a Human-Robot Collaboration Prototyping Toolkit,” is under the supervision of Jared DonovanMarkus RittenbruchStine Johansen and Rafael Gomez FDIA from QUT (Queensland University of Technology) and the review panel included Marianella Chamorro-Koc and Claire Brophy.

His project is dedicated to developing a human robot collaboration Prototyping Toolkit that integrates both physical and simulated robotic systems. This initiative aims to streamline the exploration, development, and testing of novel processes and work routines. Through a collaboration with industry partner Cook Medical, the research team will explore various prototyping techniques and utilise advanced technologies such as motion tracking, mixed-reality interfaces, and lightweight interactive components to safely explore new interaction concepts.

This innovative approach promises to equip designers, engineers, and end-users with the essential resources for enhancing future human-robot collaboration within the manufacturing landscape.

For more details about James’s project, please see: Project 2.2: Human Robotic Interaction prototyping toolkit » Australian Cobotics Centre | ARC funded ITTC for Collaborative Robotics in Advanced Manufacturing

Welcoming a new Industry Partner – Tafe Queensland

We are pleased to announce that TAFE Queensland has joined the Centre as an Industry Partner!

TAFE Queensland offers our Centre valuable insight into Queensland’s manufacturing businesses and their workforces. They are one of Australia’s largest education providers with 120,000+ students trained each year across the state, nationally and internationally.

We look forward to sharing more about our collaboration as the year progresses.

Meet our E.P.I.C. Researcher, Akash Brinly Hettiarachchi

Akash Hettiarachchi is a PhD researcher based at Queensland University of Technology and his project is part of the Human-Robot Workforce Program at the Australian Cobotics Centre.
His current research interests include diversified work groups, the attraction of different social groups to the advance manufacturing sector and overcoming work force gaps.

We interviewed Akash recently to find out more about why he does what he does.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself and your research with the Centre?

I have worked in the manufacturing industry for almost 20 years, specializing as an HR Professional for major global manufacturing companies. Throughout my career, I have gained invaluable experience working with diverse workforces across different regions and cultures. This experience has not only provided me with practical insights but also enhanced my theoretical knowledge in the field. I have had the privilege of collaborating with industry experts and witnessing firsthand the advancements in technology within the manufacturing industry. This exposure has fueled my passion for research and equipped me with a deeper understanding of how to contribute effectively to the industry.

Moving forward, I believe it is essential to forge strong partnerships with industry leaders and gain a thorough understanding of the practical implications of workforce development alongside technological advancements. By combining this practical knowledge with my diverse background, I can contribute to the manufacturing industry by formulating innovative business strategies that provide a competitive edge.

  • Why did you decide to be a part of the Australian Cobotics Centre?

The Australian Cobotic Centre stands out from other research groups by actively engaging with the industry and directly investigating pressing issues in the manufacturing sector. It also serves as a platform for researchers with diverse backgrounds to collaborate and share their findings with a wider audience. Additionally, maintaining ongoing connections with technical and HR experts opens up new research opportunities and fosters improved collaboration.

  • What project are you most proud of throughout your career and why?

Promoting diversity in the workforce is a project that is extremely important to me. Throughout my professional career, I have unfortunately encountered discrimination in various areas, including recruitment, selection, promotions, and training and development. This discrimination has been especially prevalent among underrepresented groups. Additionally, I have observed firsthand how managers perpetuate unaccepted behaviour towards minority groups, highlighting the urgent need for support from business leaders.

  • What do you hope the long-term impact of your work will be?

I intend to work with manufacturing organizations as a consultant, offering guidance on effectively managing the new generations and other underrepresented groups in the context of Industry 4.0. I also aim to blend traditional HR strategies with technological support and leverage technology to develop more inclusive HR strategies. The HR community I am currently connected with is an excellent platform for sharing my research findings and exploring new opportunities to enhance global HR strategies.

  • Aside from your research, what topic could you give an hour-long presentation on with little to no preparation?

As an HR Practitioner, I am most comfortable presenting on manufacturing-related HR strategies, problems faced by women in the manufacturing sector, and the impact of technology on the workforce. These topics require minimal preparation on my part.

CONGRATULATIONS Akash – Confirmation of Candidature

Massive congratulations to our PhD researcher, Akash Brinly Hettiarachchi who completed his confirmation seminar last week on Wednesday, 6 March!


His thesis is entitled: Cobots intervention for a diverse Australian manufacturing workforce. His supervisory team include A/Prof Penny Williams, QUT and Professor Greg Hearn, QUT and the review panel included A/Prof Erika French and A/Prof Jared Donovan.

His project addresses the existing labour shortage and facilitate sustainable growth in the manufacturing sector, it is imperative to explore potential solutions for attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. This research seeks to synergise technological solutions (Cobots) with HR strategies (workforce diversity) to address the prevalent challenge of talent scarcity within the manufacturing sector.

It will investigate avenues for incorporating human and social factors into the design of Cobots and assess how this integration can help overcome potential barriers to entry and retention for a diverse manufacturing workforce. The study will adopt a qualitative research methodology, encompassing three key stages: descriptive analysis, focus group discussions, and case study analysis.

New PhD Researcher, Zongyuan Zhang

We are pleased to welcome Zongyuan Zhang, our newest team member. Zongyuan is a PhD researcher at QUT (Queensland University of Technology), supervised by Jonathan Roberts, and will be actively involved in the Biomimic Cobots program as the lead researcher on Project 1.1: Cobot contact tasks through multi-sensory deep learning.

Zongyuan’s research interests centre around the application of deep learning in the field of robotics and the study of motion theories of robots with different configurations. He has experience in control system design and mechanical structure design, and has participated in projects including underwater photography robot, driverless racing car, exoskeleton mechanical arm, dual-rotor aircraft, and remote-control robotics arm, some of which are currently undergoing commercialisation.

???? We look forward to hearing more as Zongyuan’s project progresses!

Welcome Zongyuan!

ARTICLE: Reflections from the 2023 OZCHI workshop on Empowering People in Human-Robot Collaboration

This article is written by Stine Johansen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Human-Robot-Interaction Program) at Australian Cobotics Centre.


At the OzCHI 2023 conference, researchers from the Australian Cobotics Centre (QUT and UTS) and CINTEL (CSIRO) co-organised a workshop on the topic of “Empowering People in Human-Robot Collaboration: Why, How, When, and for Whom”. Our previous workshop at the OzCHI 2022 conference showed that there is a growing interest in the area from both researchers and practitioners located in the regions of Oceania. In the 2022 workshop, discussions centred around human roles in human-robot collaboration, empathy for robots, approaches to designing and evaluating human-robot collaboration, and ethical considerations. With the 2023 workshop, we aimed to take a step further by (1) discussing underlying assumptions that shape our research and (2) identifying pathways towards shared visions for future research. While it is impossible to capture all the nuances of our discussions here, I will use the limited space in this article to provide a peek into two of the topics that emerged. I hope this can serve as an inspiration to anyone who is reflecting on the why, when, how, and who of empowering people in human-robot collaboration.

Topic 1: Robots as tools for creativity

While an increasing number of digital tools to support creative work come into the world, there are still questions left to be answered in terms of how that support can or should be designed. While a robot might aid someone in drawing, 3D printing, milling furniture, etc, it is up to people to ask the right kinds of questions for artistic expressions and experiences. Furthermore, while a robot might be able to manipulate physical materials, the processes of moulding, cutting, drawing, painting, etc., is part of an artistic conversation that artists and creative professionals have with those materials. Workshop participants proposed that there is a potential for further empirical studies of how creativity works as a basis for how robots can support that.

There are a number of examples out there where designers, developers, and artists explore roles that robots can play for creative work. Here are some that I have come across:

Youtuber and artist Jazza tried to evaluate the drawing capabilities of a small desk robot by line-us. The video starts with a highly unsuccessful replication of Jazza’s drawings and moves into an interactive game session, e.g., playing hangman. It seems that replicating an artist’s drawings is a fun gimmick but perhaps does not offer any further space for creativity. (See the video here)

The humanoid robot Ai-Da paints “self”-portraits which seems ironic when a robot inherently does not have a self or an identity—at least from the perspective of current understandings of consciousness. The artist, Aidan Meller, states that the point of Ai-Da is to raise questions around what role people have if robots are able to replicate our work. (The Guardian published this article about Ai-Da in 2021)

By the way, on the topic of robot consciousness, our workshop panel member Associate Professor Christoph Bartneck, University of Canterbury, hosts a podcast in which the topic was discussed. You can listen to the episode here.

In a more academic direction, the MIT Media Lab has conducted research on ways that robots can help children be creative. They designed a set of games that support children either through demonstrating how to implement a creative idea or by prompting children to reflect by, e.g., asking them questions. (Read about the research here)

Topic 2: Assumptions about robots

Even though, much research and development has already shown a multitude of ways that robots can perform tasks in work and everyday life, there are still underlying assumptions about robots and people that drive these developments. The phrases we use between ourselves, participants, collaborators, industry partners, etc, to describe a design concept or how a robot could solve a problem are part of a larger storytelling. Such storytelling comes through narratives of, e.g., robots taking jobs from workers. We might ask ourselves how we contribute to these narratives, both in public forums as well as research publications.

As a side note to this, fiction and ‘speculation’ is increasingly utilised as a tool for designing human-robot interaction. Some examples include Auger, 2014, Luria et al., 2020, and Grafström et al., 2022. Speculative design is not a new method, but rather becoming a well-established approach within human-computer interaction (HCI), interaction design, and now also human-robot interaction.

What are our visions and how can we get there?

Our shared visions for the future of human-robot collaboration are not necessarily surprising, but thankfully reassuring, that collaborative robots should support people. There are, however, a multitude of ways that people can be supported. These range from support (1) during an actual task, e.g., heavy lifting, improving work safety, and providing effective communication, (2) by fitting into dynamic and unstructured environments, and (3) as part of the foundation for people to have a healthy and rewarding work life.

Different pathways exist towards making this reality. Here are a few examples taken from the workshop discussion. First, while the Australasian context might present some unique challenges, we can still learn from other parts of the world, e.g., in terms of socio-economic pressures that drive robotic development. Second, we can continuously reframe the problems we choose to prioritise. There are perhaps opportunities to move away from the framing of robots performing “dull, dirty, and dangerous” work to robots performing collaborative, inclusive, and even creative work. Third, increasingly dynamic settings require robotic interfaces that provide modular solutions. This prompts the question of how end users might use modular robotic systems, and whether this approach is best suited for certain problems and contexts. Finally, participants agreed that we increasingly need a network of researchers in this area to support each other.

In the spirit of the last point, I invite researchers and practitioners to visit the Australian Cobotics Centre at QUT, Brisbane. You are also welcome to join our public seminars, both as audience and presenter. I look forward to continuing this crucial conversation.


James Auger. 2014. Living with robots: a speculative design approach. J. Hum.-Robot Interact. 3, 1 (February 2014), 20–42.

Anna Grafström, Moa Holmgren, Simon Linge, Tomas Lagerberg, and Mohammad Obaid. 2022. A Speculative Design Approach to Investigate Interactions for an Assistant Robot Cleaner in Food Plants. In Adjunct Proceedings of the 2022 Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (NordiCHI ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 50, 1–5.

Michal Luria, Ophir Sheriff, Marian Boo, Jodi Forlizzi, and Amit Zoran. 2020. Destruction, Catharsis, and Emotional Release in Human-Robot Interaction. J. Hum.-Robot Interact. 9, 4, Article 22 (December 2020), 19 pages.

Online links

Jazza trying the line-us robot:

Article about Ai-Da:

MIT Media Lab projects on child-robot interaction for creativity:

Christoph Bartneck’s podcast episode on robot consciousness:

Two papers accepted for ISEA 2024

Our researchers have two papers accepted to the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA 2024) which will be held in Meanjin (Brisbane) from 21-29th June.

  • Robotic Blended Sonification: Consequential Robot Sound as Creative Material for Human-Robot Interaction, by Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Stine Johansen from QUT (Queensland University of Technology) with co-authors Yanto Browning, Anthony Brumpton, Jared Donovan, Markus Rittenbruch.
  • Track Back: A Human Robot Movement Installation Utilising Unity Digital Twin and Human Bio-mimicry by Chief Investigator, Dr John McCormick from Swinburne University of Technology. As part of the Symposium, John will present an exhibition demonstration at UAP | Urban Art Projects.

Find out more:

Goodbye & Thank You

Farewell to Our THWS Visiting Researchers!

It’s time to say goodbye to our three visiting researchers from the Technical University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (THWS) who have been a part of our team at the Australian Cobotics Centre (ACC).

We extend our sincere thanks to Tobias Kaupp, Adrian Muller, and Usama Ali for their outstanding contributions during their time with us. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavors!

Thanks for being a part of the team.