Harmonious cooperation in everyday working life

Human-robot interaction also depends on the interaction with the human team partners. How this works in everyday working life can be observed at Ulmer Parkbetriebsgesellschaft.

When robots are to become part of our cityscape in the future, one question will be crucial: how can humans and robots work together in harmony? This is what ZEN-MRI is researching. The consortium partners are using a wide variety of methods to do this, with the University of Ulm, for example, conducting field observation studies and Fraunhofer IAO organising co-creation workshops. But even independently of the actual research, the project offers the opportunity to take a closer look at the robots in everyday life: Ulmer Parkbetriebsgesellschaft, which is also involved in the project as a subsidiary of our project partner, the city of Ulm, has been using the cleaning and sweeping robots from ADLATUS Robotics GmbH in practice since 2017.

Robots and their human team partner

The robots are in use in the car park at the train station and the car park at the town hall. “In this way, we can also deduce customer behaviour on site,” says Klaus Linder, Operations Manager at PBG. “This provides information about acceptance, for example.” In addition, a lot can be said about the expectations and fears of the human team partners. One of the ideas behind ZEN-MRI is to design the appearance and behaviour of the robots in such a way that an appropriate level of trust is created. This should increase the chances of the robots being positively integrated into the public space. Ultimately, the interaction between robots and the people who work with them will also raise many questions that need to be answered.

Gaining new insights through the use of robots

The PBG garage attendants, who also serve as contact persons for the on-site support of the robots, receive regular training to ensure that this interaction with the users is as successful and considerate as possible. “We also attach great importance to liaising closely with the robot manufacturer ADLATUS in the broad field of innovation management,” says Klaus Linder. “Because we also know that work processes will change when robots become part of our cityscape.” ZEN-MRI takes a variety of perspectives – as well as a holistic approach to research. In addition to the ethical, legal and social challenges, the aim is also to gain insights into the development and design of robots. For the employees of PBG, whose field of work is changing, the use of robots offers more advantages. They have the opportunity to devote themselves to alternative tasks and have more time for customers on site, for example.