Forbes Magazine recently quoted Meghan Huber, an assistant professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and director of the Human Robot Systems (HRS) Laboratory, in an article about Walmart ending its contract with a developer of robots to track inventory in its store aisles. After testing and using the technology with approximately 500 robots over the past five years, the company will shift that labor back to human employees.
“Workers can perform a multitude of different tasks,” as Huber said in the Forbes article. “They can move from the cash register to the stockroom to the sales floor as needed. The functionality of most commercial robots, however, is limited and inflexible. In Walmart’s case, a human worker can check shelf inventory levels and help a customer find an item, whereas the robot could only do the former.”
The Forbes articled added that another issue is how shoppers have reacted to seeing robots work in a store, which can be somewhat jarring, as anyone knows after running into odd-looking and strange-sounding robots at the supermarket.
As Huber put it, “Robotics companies need to invest in social and cognitive research to understand what makes a socially acceptable robot in terms of both hardware and software.”
Huber’s research focuses on understanding how humans and robots, such as exoskeleton devices and robot manipulators, can learn to physically interact with one another. According to Huber, “This highly interdisciplinary research lies at the intersection of robotics, dynamics, controls, human neuroscience, and biomechanics.” (January 2021)