Robots must be cognizant of how their actions will be interpreted in context. Actions performed in the context of a joint activity comprise two aspects: functional and communicative. The functional component achieves the goal of the action, whereas its communicative component, when present, expresses some information to the actor’s partners in the joint activity. The interpretation of such communication requires leveraging information that is public to all participants, known as common ground. Much of human communication is performed through this implicit mechanism, and humans cannot help but infer some meaning – whether or not it was intended by the actor – from most actions. We present a framework for robots to utilize this communicative channel on top of normal functional actions to work more effectively with human partners. We consider the role of the actor and the observer, both individually and jointly, in implicit communication, as well as the effects of timing. We also show how the framework maps onto various modes of action, including natural language and motion. We consider these modes of action in various human-robot interaction domains, including social navigation and collaborative assembly.
Ross A. Knepper is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University. His research focuses on the theory, algorithms, and mechanisms of automated assembly. Previously, Ross was a Research Scientist in the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT. Ross received his M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 and 2011. Before his graduate education, Ross worked in industry at Compaq, where he designed high-performance algorithms for scalable multiprocessor systems; and also in commercialization at the National Robotics Engineering Center, where he adapted robotics technologies for customers in government and industry. Ross has served as a volunteer for Interpretation at Death Valley National Park, California.