Christopher Lindinger is helping to create a level of communication between robots and humans.
Christopher Lindinger is helping to create a level of communication between robots and humans.

By Jacob Miley

Imagine having a robotic chauffeur, or the idea of not having to drive at all. Dream no more, autonomous vehicles are just on the horizon.

The biggest obstacle for researchers is the concept behind pedestrian and robotic communication while on the road and as experts revealed at the World Science Festival in Brisbane today the answers to this remain unclear.

Ars Electronica Futurelab’s director of research & innovation, Christopher Lindinger, has been researching several aspects to try and create and develop a new language for successful communication in preparation for the future of mobility.

Although not designing or building the cars, Ars Electronica is providing research that they hope will later help with creation of driverless vehicles.

“We are focusing a little bit on the aspect of interaction between robots and the pedestrians and what we are doing is not making the design, but the design principles which are the foundations,” Lindinger said.

These design principles are then mimicked with small robots, which navigate through a “high-tech floor space, using lights, sounds and movements”.

The science festival demonstration revealed that once the robot senses a pedestrian it will stop and present an opportunity for the pedestrian to cross. Once the pedestrian has passed, the robot will resume its course.

“We are testing what is working, and what is not working, and these kind of things we are exploring to develop this language and once we have the language we know how to transform into actual sound aspects,” Lindinger said.

The Austrian scientist believes the technology and legal issues surrounding autonomous cars often flood the conversation about driverless cars and the future of vehicles needs to be discussed more.

“What we do is try to think of the second generation of self-driving cars, where we also have all the interactions and communication, because those cars really are a major cultural shift of what lies ahead.

“It won’t be necessary for my grandchildren to have a drivers licence.

“It really changes everything.”

Human and Robot communication essential to feel safe

Queensland University of Technology scientist Jonathan Parsons, who is leading the university’s Science Festival program, says people need to feel comfortable and safe when sharing the road environment with robots, and this is achieved through effective communication.

Lindinger also believes trust is an important part of the process and building a level of informed trust with humans is vital.

“Informed trust is when a machine comes to you and says ‘okay I have seen you, I can break at this point’, then basically there is certain communication and this is rising the trust towards these machines.

“I mean, for sure, if the machine is just doing and you’re not actually perceiving what the intention is – then you don’t have trust, and you cannot develop trust.”

That, Lindinger says, is why it is so important humans understand the process.