Most robots today work in manufacturing facilities where, for safety reasons, they are removed from being in close proximity with humans. But, Georgia Tech robotics researchers believe people and robots can accomplish much more as co-robots, which work beside, or cooperatively with, people. This symbiotic relationship with human partners, they say, will work, as long as robots learn common sense about how much pressure to apply when shaving a disabled person, for example.

Charlie Kemp, an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, is developing and testing robots that can help a stroke victim with limited mobility to shave, adjust a blanket when he’s cold, and even scratch an itch.

“A major challenge for health care robots is that they lack so much of the knowledge and experience that people take for granted,” said Kemp. “To us, it’s just common sense that everybody has. For robots, it’s a serious impediment.”

Giving robots common sense is just one milestone on the path to the kinds of collaboration that will be required to meet the needs of a growing population of older persons. Beyond personal care, the benefits of co-robotics are many. To produce better products more efficiently, manufacturing robots will need to team up with humans, each contributing unique abilities.