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ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction March 13-16, 2023 Stockholm, SE

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Stine Johansen was at the IEEE Human Robot Interaction Conference this week where she presented her paper, Illustrating Robot Motions.

Stine created a video presentation of the paper which gives an overview of the survey and examples of findings relating to how robot movements are illustrated in the ACM/IEEE Conference on Human-Robot Interaction proceedings from 2016 to 2022.

Download the paper and Stine’s video here: Illustrating Robot Movements | Proceedings of the 2023 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction

We congratulate Stine, Jared and Markus on their paper acceptance especially given the conference’s average acceptance rate of 24% (last 5 years 24%).

Dr Stine Johansen
Associate Professor Jared Donovan
Associate Professor Markus Rittenbruch

ARTICLE: Try-a-Trade, Gladstone

By Melinda Laundon, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, and Jacqueline Greentree, PhD Researcher, Human-Robot Workforce Program, Australian Cobotics Centre

Almost 200 Grade 9 and 10 girls from Gladstone and surrounds gathered at CQUniversity for Try-a-Trade on 15th March. This event brought together manufacturing, aerospace, energy, mining, engineering and construction industry businesses and stakeholders from government and education to encourage female high school students to learn about a range of careers in STEM and try out some practical activities that they might encounter in STEM jobs.

The event was organised by the Gladstone Engineering Alliance in partnership with the National Association of Women in Construction and the Queensland Government‘s Department of Employment, Small Business and Training and Gladstone Manufacturing Hub.

It is important to engage high school students early to consider careers in manufacturing. The lower numbers of women in manufacturing make it particularly important to provide female students with opportunities to consider and experience diverse manufacturing career options. In Queensland, 29% of the current manufacturing workforce are women. While the proportion of women employed in manufacturing has grown dramatically over the past decade, most are in clerical or administrative roles. Only 11% of women in manufacturing are technicians and trade workers[1].

Australian Cobotics Centre industry partner Weld Australia hosted a stall at Try-a-Trade with two Soldamatic welding simulators. This popular activity allows people to experience welding in a safe environment. It also provided a fun competition between girls to compare their welding accuracy. Weld Australia’s Regional Training Coordinator, Adam Coorey said:

“To address the skills shortage, we need to give a greater range of access to the full available workforce. By utilising augmented reality technology, students who would normally shy away from the heat and sparks of a welding bay can try welding in a safe environment.  This accessible technology gives students the opportunity to experience a career that they may thrive in”.

At the Cobotics Centre stall, we discussed the impact of cobots and other advanced technology on future work. We also asked students to think about the skills and attributes that would be required in the future to work with a cobot as a team member. They came up with many creative insights, including:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Patience
  • Understanding human interactions
  • Coding
  • Good communication
  • Independence
  • Curiosity
  • Designing
  • Digital technology education
  • To be able to build
  • Understanding of mechanics

[1] Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water (2023) Women in Manufacturing Strategy.

Meet our E.P.I.C. Researcher, Dr Melinda Laundon

The Australian Cobotics Centre has some incredibly E.P.I.C. researchers. Each month we will be profiling a different researcher. Dr Melinda Laundon is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with our Human Robot Workforce program and is based at QUT.

We sat down with Melinda recently to find out more about why she does what she does.

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

I’m part of the Human-Robot Workforce research program. We have a broad scope to research the changing skills, capabilities, and composition of the Australian manufacturing workforce, including the influence of cobots on jobs, workers and organisations. My research is investigating attraction and retention of manufacturing workers, from the perspective of sector stakeholders, managers and the workers themselves. I hope it will help to understand how advanced technologies can change the way we attract people to careers in manufacturing, and help to address some of the crucial skills shortage issues in Australian manufacturing.

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

I jumped at the chance to work with great researchers from many different disciplines, as well as the opportunity to engage with industry partners on issues that are immediately important and relevant. I could also see strong parallels between the Cobotics Centre’s commitment to sustainable growth and quality jobs in manufacturing, and QUT’s Centre for Decent Work & Industry, where I co-lead a research stream on sustainable transitions between education and work.

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

I’m proud of my work with the Australian Research Council and universities to help academics and PhD students to plan for and achieve an impact on society from their research.  I’m also proud of my roles as a mentor and assessor for Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellowship schemes at QUT and other universities. HEA Fellowship emphasises the value of reflection, professional development to improve student learning, and sharing good practice with colleagues – all of which apply to research as well as university teaching.

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

I came to academia after a policy career in the Australian Public Service, including stints with the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Australian Research Council. My PhD in management examined employees’ fairness perceptions at work, especially in relation to reward and recognition. I started my academic career with the intention of not only doing good scholarly research but also having a practical impact on organisations and public policy. I hope that my research helps to inform policy and practice by contributing deeper understandings of workers’ perceptions and needs.

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

This is a tough one! I might have to break it up into a few smaller lectures on different topics including Scottish and Australian crime fiction, Australian slow fashion labels, and music played on Triple J in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.


QUT’s Vacation Research Experience Scheme (VRES)

The Centre has been lucky enough to have two undergraduate students from QUT, Sabrin Daniel and Melanie Lay, working on projects with us over the last couple of months as part of QUT’s Vacation Research Experience Scheme (VRES).

VRES allows students the opportunity to participate in a research project for approximately 6-10 weeks. This opportunity is particularly valuable if they’re interested in pursuing a research degree! 

We sat down with Sabrin and asked her a little more about her experience:


Why did you decide to participate in QUT’s VRES?

Throughout my degree, I’ve had a particular interest in Social and Organisational Psychology. As a result, I thought this was the best way to gain insight into organisational issues such as teamwork and productivity, as well as gaining experience in conducting a literature review. Moreover, it is clear that post COVID-19, advancements in technology is changing the way businesses meet client and consumer expectations, therefore I was curious to understand how this would impact me as a HR professional. Specifically, how HR will need to adapt its policies and processes to support companies in this transition.

What did you learn that you think will be most useful in your future work or studies? 

The process in identifying patterns within the literature and being able to make appropriate conclusions about their impact to the topic at hand was a great skill that I learnt. I believe that this will help me in my future studies. As well, this is a skill that helps to identify what exists in the literature and what the gaps are to be able to implement appropriate policies and HR practices. Specifically in my research, a common consensus is that human-robot collaboration (HRC) requires commitment, capability and fulfilment and issues such as communication, trust and interdependency can hinder HRC. As a result, reading the literature allowed me to understand how HR professionals can address these issues which will be useful for me in the future.

What did you enjoy most about your project? 

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Australian Cobotics Centre (ACC) launch, as I was able to hear industry partners speak about how cobots present opportunities for their industries, along with the anticipated challenges. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to be able to do a site visit at Urban Arts Precinct (UAP) with my mentors, Melinda Laundon and Greg Hearn. Both of these events helped in providing context for me to understand my research. Finally, I was fortunate enough to have mentors that provided me with resources to understand an efficient and systematic approach to conducting a literature. I believe their feedback and guidance throughout the process made this VRES project thoroughly enjoyable.

What would be the next steps in your project if it was to continue? 

The next step in the process is to identify and focus research questions based on the findings of my research.

Meet the VRES Students

Sabrin Daniel worked with the Human-Robot Workforce research program.

Her research focuses on Work crews and cobots: the future of work. Specifically, a literature review on, trends in cobotic adoption, how team dynamics will be impacted and the possible advantages and challenges to cobotic adoption trends in.

She is currently an undergraduate at QUT studying a dual degree; a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology) and a Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management Major).

Melanie Lay worked with the Designing Socio-Technical Robotic Systems Program.

Her research aims to create digital twins to support human-robot collaboration. The outcome of this will include modelled 3D assets which can be used to digitally simulate a real-world manufacturing environment.

She is currently an undergraduate student at QUT, studying a double degree of Bachelor of Design (Architecture)/Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics).


ARTICLE: Human-Robot Collaboration Challenges and Opportunities in Australia

At the 2022 annual Australian conference for the Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group, OzCHI, 20 researchers from leading Australian robotics research environments met up for the workshop “Empowering People in Human-Robot Collaboration”. This workshop was co-organised by members from the Australian Cobotics Centre and the Collaborative Intelligence Future Science Platform (CSIRO). In this short overview, we offer insights from the workshop that show challenges and opportunities for building this research in Australia.

An Australian Perspective on Human-Robot Collaboration

Discussions that considered “The Tyranny of Distance”, the classic account of how Australia’s geographical remoteness has been central to shaping the people’s values and available resources, identified the lack of robotics manufacturing facilities as one major challenge. While this limits the opportunity to conduct fundamental research that contributes to the hardware design of robots, this workshop discussed how this limitation enables Australian HRC researchers to focus more on application-specific and ‘in the wild’ research. Discussions around the cultural mindset that tends to lack trust in automation highlighted that this mindset can be used in answering critical research questions such as what work should and should not be automated. Workshop participants also called attention to one of the most fundamental problems that is not only relevant to Australian context or HRC research. Currently in research gatherings, we focus on sharing success stories. We need to start facilitating “failure tracks” to share the lessons learnt from failures if we want to truly expedite the advancement of HRC research.

Beyond the Australian perspective, the researchers offered several directions for future work in human-robot collaboration:

Human role in HRC: Participants discussed the terms we use for people in human-robot collaboration. Suggestions included collaborator, partner, and helper. Similarly, the role of the robot in relation to the person was discussed, e.g., robot as leader, follower, co-artist, etc. Examples of appropriate and creative ways of partnering included mimicking and training.

Improving awareness: An emerging research interest in enhancing robots’ and human collaborators’ awareness of each others’ states and actions was observed. Specifically, some participants were interested in studying how to model human internal states (e.g., cognitive workload) and individual differences using multimodal analytics, so robots can use related outcomes to adapt to human needs and augment humans. Another area of interest was to implement intelligent user interfaces to assist humans in predicting states and actions of robots and understanding reasons behind robots’ decisions.

Empathy for robots: While the focus of human-robot collaborative applications has mostly been on fulfilling human needs and achieving human goals, participants also highlighted that putting people in the ‘shoes’ of robots is also important. Topics discussed in this space included interface requirements of robots (considering robot-human as well as robot-robot interactions) and the need to prevent human abuse of robots.

Ethical considerations: Discussion covered the ethical considerations associated with the purpose, design and intended users of cobots, and the ways these may interact. Certain purposes, such as intimate engagements or persuasion, have ethical implications yet to be fully explored or resolved. Given the purpose of many collaborative robots is social, there are special considerations that need to be made when identifying and responding to the needs of vulnerable populations, such as children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Design matters with broad relevance to ethical robotics include safety, appropriate trust, and transparency. Participants suggested special consideration should be given to the potential consequences of anthropomorphism of robots, including mistreatment of robots, attribution of moral agency, and uncanny valley backlash.

HRC design aims: There is a need for designers to consider how the design of the robot complements people. One example is the opportunity for robots to extend abilities of, or provide access for, people with disabilities. Related to this, participants noted the barriers of robots complementing people, including building and negotiating trust, making explainable robots, and designing collaboration in iterative steps.

HRC design approaches: Several discussions revolved around materials and prototyping approaches for design of collaborative robots. This was supported by questions around how to involve end users in prototyping processes and what kinds of wizard of oz methods could be appropriate. Another discussion around design approaches was centered on robot creativity and how to support human-robot interaction for creative purposes.

Evaluating HRC: A challenge for the research field is how to evaluate human-robot collaboration outcomes. Participants noted that this was mainly due to the dynamic nature of the collaboration. An example is trust which changes over the duration of the collaboration.


We thank all the participants for their valuable perspective, and CINTEL for a great workshop collaboration. Let’s continue to build this research community in Australia.

The Australian “The rise of AI is shaking up the world of work”, Dr Penny Williams

Research Program Lead Dr Penny Williams featured in The Australian today in an article entitled, “The rise of AI is shaking up the world of work”, part of the Women in Education, Cutting Edge Careers special edition.

Penny talked about her research with the Australian Cobotics Centre and the opportunities available for women working with AI and robots in the future. “Women should consider courses that, in addition to giving them a trade or professional qualification, will help them develop digital skills, including basic coding. (They’ll also require) entrepreneurial thinking, strong communication and problem-solving skills, and the ability to collaborate with both humans and machines.”

Read the full article:

ARTICLE: A Very Brief Introduction to Socio-technical Systems: And How They Will Impact Our Future Robot Interactions.

Technology permeates all aspects of modern society, from using social media to communicate with friends to relying on machine automation for mundane tasks. As an integral part of our everyday lives, technology drives how we live, work, and interact with each other – this includes the emergence of new technology woven into our social lives. These combinations of social elements interacting with technology are called a socio-technical system (STS). Despite being at the centre of our daily routines, not many people know about them or the effect they will have on our future technologies. This article presents a (very) brief introduction to the broad subject of socio-technical systems and how approaching our interactions with technology from a holistic viewpoint allows us to design better for our futures.  

Essentially, the aim of an STS is to bring people and technology together to achieve a common goal or purpose. Social media platforms are an example of a modern STS allowing people to communicate via technical software, algorithms, and data analysis. Other well-known examples include email, E-commerce systems (e.g. Amazon and eBay), modern healthcare databases, transportation systems such as logistics, public transport or ridesharing, and energy grids that many of us rely on for electricity. 

The first ideas of the STS were developed in the mid-20th Century to understand the growing complexity and interdependence between people, machines, organisations, and their environments in industries like mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. This socio-technical theory revolutionised modern society by increasing connectivity, transforming how work is performed, and disrupting traditional industries. They have changed consumer behaviour and increased dependence on technology, leading to new opportunities and challenges for individuals and organisations. 

Currently, the concept of STSs often draws upon design philosophies that recognise the social and technical parts but still regard the system holistically as symbiotic, i.e. each system element should benefit from its interaction with another element. Design approaches and problem-solving techniques, such as human-centred design (HCD), cover a broad context that includes a system’s human, social, technological, and environmental aspects. In this approach, the design process starts with understanding the human users’ needs, wants, and limitations and then incorporates these into the design of the technology. Ultimately HCD provides us with a toolkit that optimises STS interactions to achieve a better outcome and to produce an effective system. The goal is to create a system that supports and augments human capabilities while also meeting technical requirements, resulting in a solution that is both efficient and user-friendly. This approach is commonly used in fields such as ergonomics, user experience (UX), human-computer interaction (HCI), and collaborative robotics (aka cobotics) – where the interaction between humans and technology is critical to the success of the system. 

In robotics, STSs have significantly impacted robot development and deployment, especially in collaborative environments shared between people and robots. Cloud computing, Internet-of-Things (IoT) connectivity, and remote collaboration tools have enabled faster and more efficient robotics development by allowing experts to work together on projects regardless of their location. The vast amounts of data generated by these systems have advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, making robots more autonomous, interactive, and gradually capable of increasingly complex tasks. The ease of access to robotics technology via STS approaches has increased adoption, particularly in manufacturing, where robots traditionally automate repetitive tasks – but are now envisioned to assist with more complex labour tasks. Interaction between humans and robots has also been impacted by STSs, with new methods such as natural language processing, mixed-reality interfaces, and voice or gesture commands being developed to enable more seamless and intuitive human-robot interaction. 

However, here lies one central challenge – balancing technical components against social ones often proves difficult. Finding the correct ratio that can meet various goals, like promoting efficiency while maintaining human responsibility, adds complexity towards overall issues such as community involvement, a person’s health, and the environment. It is essential for organisations to carefully consider the ethical and safety implications of collaboration between humans and robots before implementing them. STSs effectively create solutions that work well and consider social aspects such as ethics or user experience. By combining technical elements with social ones – robots with humans – we balance what is technically possible and socially acceptable, creating something beneficial for everyone involved. The goal of this combination isn’t just efficiency but rather something that can be used safely while being more productive than ever before. That is why including human-centred factors is paramount to achieving correct integration and guarantees excellent outcomes for everyone. 

In summary, human-robot collaboration in socio-technical systems can bring several benefits, including increased efficiency, improved safety, enhanced productivity, better outcomes, and cost savings. However, it is important to consider this collaboration’s ethical and safety implications to ensure it is used responsibly. Future technological developments will bring challenges and opportunities for organisations involved in human-robot collaboration within socio-technical systems. It is up to these organisations to carefully consider the implications of their actions and strive towards creating effective and socially acceptable solutions. 

Robotic Vision Summer School: An Overview from our PhD Researchers

The Robotics Vision Summer School (RVSS) is an annual event that brings together researchers and students from all over the world to learn about the latest developments in vision-based control methods for robotics. The program features a series of lectures, tutorials, and hands-on projects designed to teach participants the fundamentals of robot vision, spatial awareness, and visual learning.

The program is an excellent opportunity for students to network with other researchers, learn from leading experts in the field, and gain valuable hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology.  Two of our PhD researchers, Jagannatha Pyaraka and Nadimul Haque attended the 2023 RVSS and shared some highlights from their experiences.

What were some of the topics covered during the Robotic Vision Summer School, and which were the most interesting to you?

Jagannatha: The most interesting topics was the vision & deep learning. Deep dive on “How the way we see is different from what a robot looks and perceives” and “how to train a robot to finish a task done from that vision” were very valuable.

Nadimul: RVSS covered mostly vision based control methods. There were segments on spatial awareness, visual learning, reinforcement learning, and robot vision. To me, I felt that robot vision that covered camera calibration, visual servoing were the most interesting topics because they were quite new to me. Visual learning was also very interesting because it covered a lot of theoretical and philosophical ideas regarding AI as well.

What were some of the hands-on activities or projects that you worked on during the summer school, and what did you learn from them?

Jagannatha: On day 2 we were given a RC car and brief about the outcome to be delivered by the end of week for a final competition. The task was to present an autonomous driving car that detects turns and steers accordingly completing a lap in shortest time possible. As I was completely new to deep learning, this kind of gave me a brief idea on robot data training, prediction and optimisation.

Nadimul: During the summer school, we had to do a project that involved controlling a robot with visual data. Although the problem itself was trivial, it highlighted the importance of spatial awareness and uncertainty modelling, rather than simply learning from raw visual data.

What were some of the highlights of the program for you?

Jagannatha:  Learning (Deep dive sessions*): One of the key highlights is the opportunity to learning from domain experts. Insight on latest advances in robotic vision, including techniques and technologies to improve robot perception and decision making.

Hands-on-experience: Allowing us to work on RC car has given an invaluable experience in terms of implementing our learning to real-world setting.

Networking: During breaks and other free time I was able to network with fellow researchers, field experts which helped me to build relations that can be beneficial in near future. I did discuss my research with them and got to know a list of important things to consider while solving my research problem.

Exposure to research: I was able to get good exposure and relate with common problems faced in current research. This was a good opportunity to learn about on-going projects and emerging trends.

Nadimul:  The highlights of the program are surely, the deep dive lectures given by Richard Hartey, Hanna Kurniawati and Miaomiao Liu. An hour and a half of their talks didn’t only comprise of their current and recent works, but showed a glimpse of their thought process, which I think is much, much more important for an HDR student to grasp. Of course, the lectures given by Peter Corke, Simon Lucey and others were also quite interesting. Being close to such influential people and hearing from them not only as tutors, but also as humans, was a great privilege.

What did you learn that you think will be most useful in your future work or studies?

Jagannatha: The lectures /deep dives on below topics are most useful for my future work are:

  • Deep learning – Various algorithms for decision making, pattern recognition, optimisation
  • Object recognition and tracking – Detecting and tracking important objects in given environment
  • Fusion of sensors
  • Spatial awareness
  • Human robot interaction – Better ways in which robots can communicate and interact with humans which helps in collaborative tasks

Nadimul: I think the biggest thing I learnt from RVSS is to take things step by step and find the time to sit back even in the busiest time, to think about whatever idea I might have in a broader perspective. The lectures, especially the deep dives helped me to gather my thoughts and ideas about my PhD project, which I think will shape my future works.

Apart from the amazing program, what else did you get up to?

Jagannatha: Almost all the evenings we had fun activities – which included networking with fellow researchers, bon-fire, going to the beach, game night, panel discussion – In which we were allowed to ask any questions to the experts such as their experience, thoughts about future developments, failures, and career advice.

Nadimul: RVSS hosted students from different universities, both from Australia and abroad. Most of them were more experienced, and in a more advanced stage in their PhDs (6-10 months in). It was a pleasure to talk and learn about their journeys, how they fixed their PhD topic and ideas etc. It was a great experience in meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds and learn from them as well.


ICRA 2023 – Accepted Papers from The Australian Cobotics Centre

Australian Cobotics Centre researchers have three papers accepted for publication at the upcoming International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2023 in London. ICRA is the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s flagship conference and the premier international forum for robotics researchers to present and discuss their work.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Fouad Sukkar gave is a brief summary of two of the papers appearing at the conference mid this year.

Guided Learning from Demonstration for Robust Transferability”, by Fouad Sukkar, Victor Hernandez Moreno, Teresa Vidal-Calleja and Jochen Deuse, contributes to the idea of humans teaching robots how to carry out tasks in the real world. A common approach is to physically move the robot around and record its motions. However, this can be inconvenient if the robot is already busy doing work and even dangerous/ not possible in the case of large industrial arms. Ideally, we should be able to demonstrate the task more naturally using the original tool, such as a welder, without the physical robot present. This is where the proposed guided learning from demonstration (LFD) framework comes in handy. It visually displays regions in the workspace that the robot is capable of moving within to the demonstrator. That way the user can be confident that the robot will be able to execute the demonstrated task and avoid having to carry out repeated trial and error. To validate their method, a user study was carried out which involved users teaching a collaborative robot (cobot) how to carry out a welding task with obstacles in the environment. Results showed that with the visual guidance users were always able to achieve a successful execution of the task on the robot in comparison to only 44% of the time without it. While the framework is in a promising proof of concept state, the authors strongly believe this idea will be important for industry as they adopt more flexible methods for manufacturing. As for future work, they are currently working towards testing their framework in real world applications and exploring different guidance mediums such augmented reality and haptic feedback. A preprint for the paper can be found here:

“Optimal Workpiece Placement Based on Robot Reach, Manipulability and Joint Torques”, by Baris Balci, Jared Donovan and Peter Corke, looks at how to best place a workpiece for a robot to physically interact with. This is particularly important for cobots, such as the Universal Robot’s UR arms, which are designed to be safe around humans. Cobots are sensitive to external forces in order to be safe around people, however, this sensitivity complicates cobots’ physical interaction with objects for manufacturing purposes. The arm will deviate away from where you tell it to go due to the external forces that are required for the manufacturing processes. What the authors in the paper show is that depending on how you place a workpiece, it is possible to increase cobots’ physical interaction performance. They present a novel method for choosing this placement and demonstrate it works effectively in a simulated surface finishing application for a few different objects with interesting surface geometries.

New PhD Researcher, Munia Ahamed

Our Quality Assurance and Compliance research program has a new PhD Researcher, Munia Ahamed.

Munia is supervised by Lee Clemon and is based at UTS Tech Lab.

Her PhD project is entitled: “Human Factors in Cobot era to Support Quality Assurance and Reliability: An exploratory Multiple Case Study in Australian Manufacturing Industry.”

This Project will capture the inspection points, reliability, and interpreted information needed for monitoring collaborative robotic activity. This activity is captured both through the collaborative robots in the interaction, automation processes up and downstream as well as through additional sensors.

This Project will focus on the integration and documentation of this data for regulatory and quality assurance activities.

Find out more about Munia here: Munia Ahamed » Australian Cobotics Centre | ARC funded ITTC for Collaborative Robotics in Advanced Manufacturing