Fear of robots is as old as robots themselves. Yet, contrary to our most dystopian expectations, the robots of today spend much less time dominating humanity and much more time improving our quality of life, reducing “busy work” and maximizing our efficiency.
Henny Admoni, the A. Nico Habermann Assistant Professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and leader of its Human And Robot Partners (HARP) Lab, is an expert on human-robot interaction, including non-verbal communications, assistive machines and the future of work. In addition to teaching a new generation of roboticists to put humans at the center of the robot development process, she advises organizational leaders – particularly those in health care and manufacturing – on the best ways to match humans with artificial intelligence (AI), robots and machines.
“A lot of my work starts with understanding how humans behave,” says Admoni. “By striving to fully understand human behaviors through psychology, then developing algorithms that respond to those behaviors, we can design robots that better understand and truly assist people.”
Admoni’s research focuses on the space between AI (machine perception and decision making) and robotics (the embodiment of AI behaviors for use in the real world). In the lab she and her team design and develop human-aware machines that can help with various tasks in almost any setting – at work, home, school or in health care. Her work is critically important to any company looking to create efficiencies through automation without alienating their workforce.
Painting a picture of the future toward which we all should work, Admoni invites us to envision new robotics use cases, such as helping doctors through the next pandemic, serving as proxies during a toxic cleanup and improving agriculture to ensure less food waste. In the process, she passionately encourages young students, especially those in underrepresented communities, to pursue careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
“Robotics is a really inspiring field to work in,” Admoni says. “By offloading rote and dangerous work to machines, we get to change people’s lives in meaningful ways and that’s really rewarding.”