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HARU: On the compliance, reliability and motion control of a tabletop robot

To ensure safe human-robot interaction in social scenarios, safety must be taken into consideration from the robot’s early conceptualization stages. Traditionally, existing robot design approaches have relied heavily on rigid components which can pose a potential safety hazard, while replacing or upgrading these components can be time-consuming and expensive. While the benefits of soft robotics for safety and interaction are well-understood, achieving reliability during long-hour operation is not sufficiently addressed. This work aims to address that research gap and provide a comprehensive methodology for the design and development of structures and actuation modules based on soft robotics technology, which would be able to best support a social robot’s dynamic motions for maximizing expressiveness and user immersion, while ensuring safety and durability over long-hour operation scenarios.

Design of soft robotic modules for safe interactions
The social robot HARU equipped with soft robotic modules for safe interactions


Social robots designed for children have gained significant interest in recent years due to the potential for dynamic and safe interactions. As society transitions towards greater ro­bot-assistance, trustworthiness in these ro­bots becomes crucial, especially considering children, the most vulnerable demograph­ic. UNICEF’s policy guidelines , based on studies of AI’s impact on children, provide direction for industries and governments on ensuring child protection, provision, and empowerment. This pursuit of safeguard­ing children’s interactions with AI-powered social robots is foundational to the accep­tance and integration of these robots in our daily lives.

A case study  following these policy guidelines, involves the use of HARU , a prototype robot that aims to stimulate the cognitive development, creativity, problem-solving and collaborative skills of children aged 6 to 18. Researchers from the Honda Research Institute Japan and European Commission’s Joint Research Centre works with a global consortium of experts (including KTH) with knowledge in the fields of AI, robotics, ethics, social sciences, and psychology to better tailor the robot to the needs and rights of its young users. Haru’s design process involved school children in Japan and Uganda to gauge their understanding of the concepts of fairness and non-discrimination. The researchers recognized the importance of systemically including children (and, when opportune, parents and teachers) in both the participatory user testing and level of software conceptualization.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The research performed in collaboration with HRI-JP is part of the larger Socially Intelligent Robotics Consortium  (SIRC). The consortium involves educators, researchers on informatics, computer science, robotics, mechatronics, linguistics, technology interaction, animation, machine learning, artificial intelligence etc., to develop robots that not only fit into, but benefit the social contexts they are used in. The main goals of the consortium are to advance social robotics by: (1) building a global network of social robotics experts, enthusiasts, and policymakers, (2) providing common social robotics platforms to researchers, (3) creating standardized data sets and protocols to support reproducible studies, and (4) developing research and outreach programs to improve geographic, cultural, and social diversity in robotics.

Sustainability Goals

With this project we aim to improve human health and well-being, while reducing inequalities and participation of marginalized populations in higher quality education enabled via robot-assisted technologies (UN sustainable development goals 3, 4, 10).

Funded by

Honda Research Institute of Japan

Project Duration



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