Virtual reality: bringing humans and robots closer together

Although robots are becoming an increasingly common sight in the workplace, many professions still harbor deep reservations. A research team led by Sangseok You, an assistant professor at HEC Paris, has turned to virtual reality (VR) to explore ways of making human beings feel more comfortable working alongside machines.

Robots play a crucial role in industry, where they are often employed to perform tedious, repetitive tasks that could be harmful or dangerous to humans. Yet the fear of machines is still very real, even though working in a bar (for example) is eight times more dangerous than working in a factory, according to US government statistics. Nevertheless, the rare fatal accidents caused by robots generate the same kind of fears people have about flying. We confuse being safe with feeling safe, meaning our fears are exaggerated.

Perceptions about safety have always been left out of the equation. The focus has been on managing technical problems, with the anxieties of employees seen as a secondary consideration. But this a mistake, say Sangseok You and his team, who have devised a VR-based solution in an attempt to reassure people who work with robots. VR already has a proven track record of combating certain phobias, which it reproduces in a virtual, safe, and risk-free environment that helps alleviate or even eliminate fears.

Sangseok and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments in an immersive environment that showed that identification and trust are restored when a physical barrier is erected between humans and robots. Re-establishing this feeling of safety promotes human-machine collaboration.

Read more :

Workers could feel safer with robots thanks to virtual reality” (Knowledge@HEC, March 2019).

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