Research Project Highlight

High-Tech Teamwork

Johns Hopkins engineers have joined colleagues at four other universities in a project to create new ways for humans and robots to work together cooperatively. The goal: Enhanced safety and greater productivity.

Gregory Hager, chair of the computer science department of Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School Engineering, is a co-principal investigator in the new four-year, $3.5-million human-robot interaction project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Modern robots can surpass humans in some procedures, but in other tasks, humans still hold the edge, Hager says.

“When it comes to heavy-lifting, repetitive motions, and work that requires an absolutely steady hand, robots perform really well,” Hager says, “but they have trouble tying knots without human help.

“Humans are better at handling flexible materials like string or cable. People also excel in drawing on experience and making decisions. Our goal is to figure out how people and robots can learn to work together to complete tasks that neither can do alone.”

Hager’s team at Johns Hopkins is collaborating with researchers at Stanford University; the University of California, Santa Cruz; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of Washington. The project is part of a larger federal effort called the National Robotics Initiative, which is aimed at speeding up the development and use of robots that work more cooperatively with people.


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