Towards Safe Robots: Approaching Asimov's 1st Law

by Utopiah3 min read16th Aug 20125 comments


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Towards Safe Robots: Approaching Asimov's 1st Law (via )

Despite the title very little theory or philosophy but instead a focus on interaction (e.g. in a factory, between a human worker and a robot) and how to minimize risk: soft-robotics, crash-testing, collisions, ...

Up to now, state-of-the-art industrial robots played the most important role
in real-world applications and more advanced, highly sensorized robots were
usually kept in lab environments and remained in a prototypical stadium. Var-
ious factors like low robustness and the lack of computing power were large
hurdles in realizing robotic systems for highly demanding tasks in e.g. do-
mestic environments or as robotic co-workers. The recent increase in techno-
logy maturity finally made it possible to realize systems of high integration,
advanced sensorial capabilities and enhanced power to cross this barrier and
merge living spaces of humans and robot workspaces to at least a certain ex-

In addition, the increasing effort various companies have invested to realize
first commercial service robotics products has made it necessary to properly
address one of the most fundamental questions of Human-Robot Interaction:

How to ensure safety in human-robot coexistence?

Although the vision of coexistence itself has always been present, very little
effort has been made to actually enforce safety requirements, or to define safety
standards up to now.

In this dissertation, the essential question about the necessary requirements
for a safe robot is addressed in depth and from various perspectives. The ap-
proach taken here focuses on the biomechanical level of injury assessment, ad-
dressing the physical evaluation of robot-human impacts and the definition of
the major factors that affect injuries during various worst-case scenarios. This
assessment is the basis for the design and exploration of various measures
to improve the safety in human-robot interaction. They range from control
schemes for collision detection, and reaction, to the investigation of novel joint
designs. An in-depth analysis of their contribution to safety in human-robot
coexistence is carried out.

In addition to this “on-contact” treatment of human-robot interaction, the the-
sis proposes and discusses real-time collision avoidance methods, i.e. how to
design pre-collision strategies to prevent unintended contact. An additional
major outcome of this thesis is the development of a concept for a robotic co-
worker and its experimental verification in an industrially relevant real-world
scenario. In this context, a control architecture that enables a behavior based
access to the robot and provides an easy to parameterize interface to the safety
capabilities of the robot was developed. In addition, the architecture was ap-
plied in various other applications that deal with physical Human-Robot In
teraction as e.g. the first continuously brain controlled robot by a tetraplegic
person or an EMG2 controlled robot.

Generally, all aspects discussed in this thesis are fully supported by a variety
of experiments and cross-verifications, leading to strong conclusions in this
sensitive and immanently important topic. Several surprising and gratifying
results, which were registered in the robotics community to great interest, were

In addition to the scientific output, the outcome of this thesis attracted also
significant public attention, confirming the importance of the topic for robotics

The major parts and contributions of this thesis are described hereafter in more
detail. Furthermore, the resulting publications which are an outcome of the
work are cited."


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This seems like a grossly overhyped but interesting piece of engineering research in mechanical safety. Invoking Asimov's first law was a marketing gimmick.