Ruth West receives $166K NSF grant for collaborative research in robotics

Delivery robot handing packages to a woman.Grounded Reasoning about Robot Capabilities for Law and Policy is the title of the $166K grant awarded to Ruth West, M.A., MFA, a UNT professor who has co-appointments in the UNT colleges of Engineering, Science, and Visual Arts and Design. The three-year collaborative $750,000 grant funded by the National Science Foundation was awarded to three institutions by the NSF's directorate on Robust Intelligence, National Robotics Initiative and Foundational Research in Robotics and is co-funded by Social and Economic Sciences and Information and Intelligent Systems.

Collaborators who will work together on this grant are Cindy Grimm, Ph.D., and William Smart, Ph.D., professors from the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., with a $499,233 award; and Ross Sowell, Ph.D., primary investigator and assistant professor of computer science, Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn., $84,657 award. Also, Jennifer L. Wondracek, J.D., director, Legal Educational Technology at UNT College of Law, Dallas, will collaborate to help the team engage with law students who will test the reasoning toolkit that will explain how robots work, how their functions can fail, and what impact they could have in environments where they are placed.
 
As robotics and autonomous systems continue to enter public spaces, technical challenges and potential societal disruption require new approaches to legal regulation, public policy, and technology development to ensure the greatest benefit while minimizing and/or averting negative societal impacts. The grant will enable the team to develop a unique approach to support future policy, law, and advances in robotics by creating new methods for specifying and communicating across domains how robotic and autonomous systems function, how they can fail, and their potential effects while avoiding anthropomorphizing these complex systems.
 
Co-robots are rapidly becoming a part of everyday life and entering shared public space in scenarios including autonomous vehicles or as cleaning, healthcare, rescue and delivery robots. Legal scholars and practitioners, policy and privacy experts and lawmakers require tools to effectively reason about the effects robots will have, West said. As an example: self-driving vehicles do not "see" pedestrians. They have sensors that detect objects and systems that classify them. This leads to actions performed according to programmed logics. If an object is detected in an unexpected place, it may be mischaracterized with unintended effects. If that object is a pedestrian in an unexpected place, it may not be identified as a person, resulting in unintended effects.

Closer to home, if you ask your future trusty co-robot chef to bring you an apple, it has to be able to do something that we take for granted daily: learn what an apple is, and recognize it regardless of the variety of apple and under any number of changing circumstances. That’s a very different process for a robot than it is for a human. Creating new and effective ways of specifying this process in a way that does not anthropomorphize the robotics, will support law, policy, and robotics experts in the development of future technologies and associated law and policy for a broad range of use scenarios. 
 
The award supports the collaborative team's research that focuses on developing tools and best practices for promoting effective collaboration between legal and policy experts and roboticists. The collaboration serves two purposes.

  1. To better ensure the safe and effective development of collaborative robots; and
  2. To create effective and appropriate laws and policies governing their deployment in public spaces.

West said she and her students will be focusing on human-centered design research for the development of frameworks and tools to support reasoning and specification about systems by legal, policy, and robotics experts.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under National Robotics Initiative Grant Nos. 2024643, 2024872, 2024673. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

More about Ruth West

Ruth WestRuth West is an artist-scientist – a creative catalyst. She envisions a future in which art + science integration opens new portals of imagination, invention, knowledge, and communication across cultures to create breakthrough solutions for our most pressing global problems. Ruth directs the xREZ Art + Science Lab and is a professor at the University of North Texas. Using emerging technologies, her work builds resonant connections between the arts and sciences to create new ways of seeing and knowing.

Bridging high-dimensional data and metadata, information visualization and sonification, virtual reality, augmented and/or mixed reality, 3D fabrication, and social and mobile participatory media with domains such as urban ecology, neuroscience, genomics, astronomy, fiber arts, and digital remix culture, Ruth explores avenues for achieving works with multiple entry points that can exist concurrently as aesthetic experiences, artistic practice or cultural interventions and serve as the basis for artistically-impelled scientific inquiry and tools. This work results in new knowledge and insight, technology R&D, novel artworks, large-scale public engagement and entertainment experiences, cross-disciplinary educational and research opportunities and industry-academic-community partnerships. She has authored more than 95+ peer-reviewed exhibitions, publications, conference presentations and public talks, and has received several million dollars in grants and corporate sponsorship. Her work has been presented in venues including Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, FILE 09 Sao Paulo, SIGGRAPH, WIRED Magazine’s NextFest, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, IEEE Visualization, SPIE/IS&T ERVR, Leonardo and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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