Q&A: Would You Trust Working with a Robot?

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

It’s a familiar trope: a well-meaning scientist invents a piece of revolutionary technology that develops consciousness and rises up to destroy the human race. Machine consciousness has long been a subject of fear and fascination, but for people who regularly interact with robots, such as those who work in the manufacturing industry, trust in automation is an incredibly pertinent issue. 

To better understand the nuances of trust in human-robot collaborations (HRCs), researchers at Texas A&M University designed a series of trials that allowed them to study operator trust. Participants (operators) were instructed to polish a metal surface with a robot along an S-shaped trajectory under varying levels of robot reliability and operator cognitive fatigue. Working with an unreliable robot reduced task efficiency and accuracy (deviation from the defined trajectory) but not precision (variance in deviation from the trajectory). Participants also perceived the task as more demanding than when they worked with a reliable robot. For participants experiencing cognitive fatigue, higher fatigue scores and reduced task efficiency were reported, with female participants more strongly impacted than male participants. 

Analyses of human factors on trust in HRCs can be utilized to create more effective worker training programs and adaptations to robot design that will maximize efficiency and workplace safety, improving and fortifying HRC systems. Robots are here to stay, and it’s on us to figure out how to work alongside them and trust them as partners. Maybe then they’ll spare us when they decide to take over the world.