Home Bots & Brains Human and robot interaction in the public space

Human and robot interaction in the public space

by Marco van der Hoeven

Researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have launched a new project focusing on the interaction between humans and robots in public spaces. This initiative, part of the ZEN-MRI project, explores how to achieve harmonious coexistence between people and robots.

Professor Johannes Kraus, appointed to a junior professorship in Applied Cognitive Psychology at JGU in October 2023, will lead the research, emphasizing human-centered technology design. The project, originally based at Ulm University, aims to understand the psychological processes involved in human-technology interaction.

Dr. Marlene Wessels, a recent doctoral graduate from JGU’s Department of General Experimental Psychology, has joined the ZEN-MRI project, bringing her expertise in virtual reality (VR) to study human reactions to robots. The lab at Mainz will be equipped with advanced VR setups and physical robots to simulate various interactions. The research will examine factors such as the appropriate distance robots should maintain from humans and the sound levels they should produce to be perceived positively.

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) until August 2025, the ZEN-MRI project is a collaborative effort involving Mainz and Ulm University, the Institute for Digital Ethics of Stuttgart Media University, the City of Ulm, Adlatus Robotics GmbH, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO in Stuttgart. The project aims to identify design and behavioral guidelines for robots to ensure they are perceived as unthreatening and sympathetic by the public. It also seeks to educate citizens about interacting with robots and address accessibility issues, including the specific needs of visually impaired individuals in public spaces.

The research at Mainz, set to begin with the establishment of the new lab and the addition of two doctoral candidates, will contribute significantly to understanding and improving human-robot interactions in public environments.

Photo: Johannes Kraus (r.) and Marlene Wessels (l.). Credit Thomas Abé

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