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FW-HTF-P: Enabling Multifaceted Collaboration between Humans, Robots, and Remote Workers for Future Distributed Manufacturing

The overarching goal of this Future of Work at the Human Technology Frontier (FW-HTF-P) project is to advance the state-of-the art of human-robot teams collaborating across distributed locations, in order to promote improved safety, flexibility, and productivity for the future manufacturing workforce. The result will mitigate the growing manufacturing skills gap in the US, caused by an aging workforce, lack of work-life balance, and geographical mismatches between job demands and skills programs. Specifically, this Project Development award will support the creation of a conceptual framework and realistic experimental testbed that will, together with guidance gathered from industrial stakeholders, enable studies of mixed teams of on-site human and robot workers collaborating with remote human workers, with rigorous assessment of the associated impacts on operations and organizational performance. These new modes of human-robot collaboration allow expert workers to remotely collaborate with on-site employees, facilitating the inclusion of underserved communities of workers with less training or reduced physical or mental capacity. They will provide hands-on supervised learning opportunities to allow newer workers to enhance their skills and increase their professional value. The use of robot teammates for physically stressful work tasks will reduce musculoskeletal injury, and thus improve quality of life and extend productive careers for manufacturing workers. Additionally this award will support hands-on cross-disciplinary research experiences for engineering and social/behavioral science students, and provide educational opportunities for groups under-represented in the STEM fields.

The goals of this Project Development award are to 1) generate a fundamental understanding of the promoters of and barriers to the adoption of Human-Robot-(remote Human), or HR(H), collaboration in manufacturing environments, to support the design of future work that will most benefit from HR(H) collaboration processes; 2) create a conceptual framework and a physical testbed that will support exploration and assessment of HR(H) collaboration with different work designs and interfaces; and 3) evaluate representative manufacturing collaboration scenarios (e.g., vehicle and aircraft maintenance and repair) to understand factors affecting trust, performance, and safety of HR(H) collaboration. Primary contributions of this work are threefold. First, direct knowledge and perspectives from industry partners (manufacturing industry stakeholders and robot manufacturers) will be obtained to examine the feasibility and benefits of using HR(H) collaboration in future distributed manufacturing. Second, the development of an HR(H) testbed will support assessing HR(H) collaboration in future work designs, including various work interfaces and work tasks, to gain fundamental knowledge of HR(H) collaborative technologies. The testbed will foster opportunities to gain multidisciplinary knowledge of multi-human and multi-robot collaboration in terms of robotics, human factors, biomechanics, and psychology. Third, key factors affecting worker performance, productivity, and safety and health within the HR(H) collaboration will be investigated, via initial representative manufacturing collaboration scenarios with varying degrees of collaboration between humans and robots. These project development activities will substantially advance the knowledge and state-of-the-art in realizing HR(H) collaboration in future distributed manufacturing environments.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Principal Investigator

Sol Lim

Project start date



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