Robotics in Place and the Places of Robotics: Critical Geographies of Human-Robot Interaction
Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) researchers have long noted the need to better understand HRI outside of controlled laboratory settings, or as it is often discussed “in the wild.” Calls for such research highlight the ways robots are increasingly entering the spaces of everyday life, including homes, schools, offices, hospitals, and city streets. These settings significantly complicate theories of HRI developed around a single robot and a single human in an isolated or scripted encounter. Despite this recognition, empirical and theoretical work on HRI in the wild is still limited. Where it has been carried out, this work has generally aimed to understand the requirements for robotic systems to properly function in such complex settings, rather than reflect on the broader socio-spatial entanglements the robots enter in these settings. Bringing discussions of HRI into conversation with scholarship from human geography, this presentation reflects on the ways socially-interactive robots become important agents in the production of physical space, social space, and place—and highlights the critical questions raised by thinking through each lens. The presentation focuses specifically on an ongoing interdisciplinary research project funded by the US National Science Foundation studying the development and deployment of interactive museum tour-guiding robots on a North American university campus. The project is a collaboration among geographers, roboticists, a digital artist, and the directors/curators of two museums, and involves experimentation in the development of a tour-guiding robot with a “socially aware navigation system” alongside ongoing critical reflection into the socio-spatial context of human-robotic interactions and their future possibilities.
University of Twente
Dr. C.R. Casey Lynch is a digital, urban, and political geographer. His work examines how processes of digitalization are materialized, territorialized, experienced, and potentially contested in cities. He aims to critique dominant processes of digitalization—in particular those based on surveillance, extraction, and corporate control—while also exploring alternative approaches oriented around social and economic justice and sustainability.
Moderation & Organizers