Workshop on Mobile Robot in Public Space


Date: Wed 5th February 2020

Time: 9am – 2pm

Venue: Cullen Room, Level 4, Holme Building, The University of Sydney

Australian Centre for Field Robotics. Driverless cars on the campus of the University of Sydney

Project Overview:

The project aims to establish a long-term collaboration among Australian and Korean experts in innovation and technology in order to exchange knowledge and advance mutual understanding of the deployment of robots and smart technologies in public space. This project will involve reciprocal visits of Australian and Korean experts, and academic or public events led by the Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (SIRIS), in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), the Department of Media and Communications in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), for the purpose of investigating the design and adoption of new technologies in public space supported by the Australia – Korea Foundation.

The project is to organise a workshop bringing together researchers, university students, government representatives, community groups and industry leaders to discuss the current state of the deployment of robots and smart technologies in public space internationally in sectors such as service provision, healthcare and transportation. The workshop will allow us to explore the benefits and risks of these technologies and directions for further research and development. We expect also to set a new challenge for the Australia-Korea partnership in the field of mobile robotics taking into account the specific contexts of each country.


Chris Chesher (Department of Media and Communications)

  • Title: Robot handshake in space: touch and alterity in human-technology relations
  • Abstract: On February 15 2012 NASA’s Robonaut R2 and Commander Burbank made history with the first human-humanoid handshake in space. While R2’s GRASP motor action program was technically relatively simple, and Burbank’s movement was trivial or even habitual, the handshake was significant as an interpersonal ritual and a phenomenological event. Psychologists distinguish between active and passive touch, touching and being touched. In a handshake, both parties engage in active social touch, each reaching out to feel the other’s grip. This everyday ritual performance has many meanings, symbolising mutual acceptance, and in this case welcoming R2 as a fellow crew member. This paper examines the implications of such encounters for understanding everyday human-technology relations and proposes that (adapting Heidegger), the two enter a relationship of ‘liveness-to-hand’.

Marius Hoggenmueller & Luke Hespanhol (School of Architecture)

  • Title: Woodie: An Urban Robot For Embodied Hybrid Placemaking
  • Abstract: The  pervasiveness  of  digital  technology is fundamentally changing society, including the way we act, interact, perceive and structure our daily lives in cities. Governments, organisational institutions and tech companies around the world are increasingly turning to urban robots for automating processes and services, with the aim to make cities more efficient and productive. In this talk, we shed light on how urban robots can be used beyond the matter of efficiency: we present the design and in-the-wild evaluation of “Woodie”, a slow-moving robot that draws on the ground using conventional chalk sticks, thereby acting as a facilitator for participatory and creative placemaking. Following a research through design approach, we demonstrate how we generated new knowledge through the design, construction and deployment of a conceptually rich artefact.

Justine Humphry (Department of Media and Communications )

  • Title: Moving around and checking in: smart technologies and mobile citizens in urban environments
  • Abstract: This paper examines people’s routine practices in urban contexts in relation to the introduction of new smart street furniture in Glasgow and London. Drawing on research carried out on smart Wi-Fi kiosks and smart benches as part of the Sydney/Glasgow Smart Publics research collaboration, it explores tensions that manifest between the design and intended uses of these objects and whether and how these are encountered by people in the street. In the Smart Publics research, it was found that these smart objects were more readily recognised and used when they fulfilled the purpose of a pre-existing urban form such a bench or advertising billboard but that smart or other technological functions often went unnoticed or unused. Notably, researchers played a role in drawing attention to smart urban objects and increasing public awareness of their purpose or functions. What we can learn from these design tensions and how might these be transferable to mobile robots and other kinds of smart technologies in urban and other settings? 

Chihyung Jeon (KAIST, South Korea)

  • Title: What can mobile robots do? Some observations from South Korea
  • Abstract: In this presentation, I will report on two cases of mobile robot use in South Korea. One is the Airstar, a mobile robot currently deployed at Incheon International Airport for information and escort services. The other is a serving robot at restaurants, which delivers food to the customer’s table. Based on a few site visits as well as promotional and media materials, I present a few observations on these mobile robots that navigate through humans and objects in public or commercial spaces. Sometimes mobility is the core function of the robot, but in other cases the robot’s mobility plays a supplementary or inessential role. It is also noted that different mobile robots require different kinds of operating or maintenance work by different groups of people. The challenge for introducing mobile robots into public space will consist in understanding the human and spatial contexts of robot use and mobilizing the users accordingly.

Sophia Maalsen (School of Architecture)

  • Title: The Community is a dangerous word: engaging community in the making of smart Newcastle, NSW, Australia
  • Abstract: Smart cities have received significant attention for the technology-based solutions they promise as a cure-all to urban problems, but this tech-driven utopianism is increasingly critiqued for its privileging of technology at the expense of the citizen. More recently, interest is turning to the smart citizen as a way to address this imbalance. While Australian cities have been comparatively late to implement formal smart city strategies, they have had opportunity to learn from the challenges and critiques of early adopter cities. Retaining a citizen-centric position from inception to life in the smart city is one example of how Australia is doing smart cities differently. Newcastle, a post-industrial regional city and the second largest in NSW, is one city that is negotiating the tension between technology-driven and citizen-driven change. We draw upon research conducted in Newcastle to understand how the City is interpreting, including and managing the local community in its smart transition. We conclude that the citizen inclusive smart city occurs at the boundaries of competing government, industry and community needs, but this is a profitable space from which to learn how smart cities might be inclusive of a range of stakeholders necessary to creating a city that uses technology, not as a solution, but as an enabler for addressing citizen and city needs.

Eduardo Nebot & Stewart Worrall (ACFR)

  • Title: Introducing autonomous vehicles in shared pedestrian spaces
  • Abstract: Using autonomous vehicles to provide last-mile transport-on-demand promises to improve mobility for people in cities, improving the utility of public transport and reducing the reliance on personal vehicles. Smaller, low speed electric vehicles present as a good option for operating in crowded city environments, with increased maneuverability and the capability of safely operating in areas generally dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. The Intelligent Transportation Systems group at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics have developed a small electric vehicle platform for research in performing autonomy in crowded environments, in particular the prediction of pedestrian intentions and safe trajectory planning. This presentation will provide an overview of this work, focusing on the interaction between pedestrians and the vehicles, and how to generate trust in these interactions

David Rye (ACFR)

  • Title: The Diamandini Project
  • Abstract: Diamandini is a humanoid robot created by Mari Velonaki and David Rye at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics for the purpose of exploring human-robot interaction in public spaces such as museums. The talk will give an overview of the project including motivation, design and construction of the robot, and observations drawn from our experience in exhibiting Diamandini.  

Yuji Sone (Marcquarie University)

  • Title: Performance studies: an analytical approach for social robotics
  • Abstract: My research has spanned performance studies and social robotics to examine technologised performance, specifically the social performance of robots in Japan. I am interested in the relationship between the performance of robots in everyday and staged contexts, and the cultural resonance of the figure of the robot in Japan. I will discuss how I examined Japanese next-generation robots from a performance studies perspective in my book Japanese Robot Culture: Performance, Imagination, and Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) by focusing on the theatrical and social effects of particular mises en scène.


9am: Welcome coffee and tea

9.15am: Opening by Naoko Abe

9.30am: Chris Chesher

9.50am: Marius Hoggenmueller

10.10am: Justine Humphry

10.30am: Sophia Maalsen

10.50am: Break (20 mins)

11.10am: Chihyung Jeon

11.30am: Stewart Worrall

11.50am: Yuji Sone

12.10pm: David Rye

12.30pm: Break (5 mins)

12.35pm: Panel discussion (45 mins)

1.15pm: Lunch

Organising committee:

Naoko Abe, Research Fellow, Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, The University of Sydney

Chris Chesher, Senior Lecturer, Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney

Justine Humphry, Lecturer, Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney

Eduardo Nebot, Professor, Australian Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, The University of Sydney

Chihyung Jeon, Assistant Professor, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (South Korea)

Contact about the workshop >>>


A/Prof Ian Manchester, Co-Director and Director of Research
Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems