Mutual Shaping in Swarm Robotics: User Studies in Fire and Rescue, Storage Organization, and Bridge Inspection

Daniel Carrillo Zapata, Emma Milner, Julian R Hird, Georgios P Tzoumas, Paul J Vardanega, Mahesh Sooriyabandara, Manuel Giuliani, Alan F T Winfield, Sabine Hauert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
277 Downloads (Pure)


Many real-world applications have been suggested in the swarm robotics literature. However, there is a general lack of understanding of what needs to be done for robot swarms to be useful and trusted by users in reality. This paper aims to investigate user perception of robot swarms in the workplace, and inform design principles for the deployment of future swarms in real-world applications. Three qualitative studies with a total of 37 participants were done across three sectors: fire and rescue, storage organization, and bridge inspection. Each study examined the users’ perceptions using focus groups and interviews. In this paper, we describe our findings regarding: the current processes and tools used in these professions and their main challenges; attitudes toward robot swarms assisting them; and the requirements that would encourage them to use robot swarms. We found that there was a generally positive reaction to robot swarms for information gathering and automation of simple processes. Furthermore, a human in the loop is preferred when it comes to decision making. Recommendations to increase trust and acceptance are related to transparency, accountability, safety, reliability, ease of maintenance, and ease of use. Finally, we found that mutual shaping,
a methodology to create a bidirectional relationship between users and technology developers to incorporate societal choices in all stages of research and development, is a valid approach to increase knowledge and acceptance of swarm robotics. This paper contributes to the creation of such a culture of mutual shaping between researchers and users, toward increasing the chances of a successful deployment of robot swarms in the physical realm.
Original languageEnglish
Article number53
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2020


  • users
  • mutual shaping
  • swarm robotics
  • firefighting
  • rescuing
  • storage organization
  • bridge inspection
  • responsible research and innovation


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