Events  |    |  September 1, 2019

2019-11-04 – IROS Workshop: What’s wrong with my robot? Unlearning biases in robot design

Conference workshop on Novermber 4, 2019 in Macau, China.

This workshop is built on interdisciplinary research in two ongoing projects: Responsible Ethical Learning with Robots (REELER) and Do Robots Dream of Knitting? (RDoK). These projects’ findings highlight how particular values unintentionally seep into design, with consequences for users and the context of use. The workshop emphasizes the potential for interdisciplinary collaborative learning across the social and technical sciences to enhance and broaden mindsets in robotic design.

This workshop asks What will people design when they have no restrictions? and Can design provocation help developers avoid implicit faulty thinking patterns? Invited experts will guide the activities, presenting their own approaches and results in a mixture of open talks and practical tutorials, which especially focus on design interventions to challenge existing assumptions in design. From our mutual participation in the workshop, we will produce a prototype reflection tool for ethics, values, gender & stereotypes (EVGS) awareness and human-centered design, that may also enhance the uptake and acceptance of robots.

While a well-defined vocabulary exists in robotics for assessing some values, like functionality and robustness, many developers find it difficult to discuss more implicit values and assumptions – and nearly impossible to address them in practice. This workshop aims to contribute a developing vocabulary for bridging the gap between theoretical discussions of EVGS and practical, everyday design by presenting research findings on how a focus on gender can improve robotic design in general. (Gender is just one of many factors, but may be the most encompassing one – and will here be used as an example of EVGS.) These issues will be explored though a playful approach of puzzle games and design challenges, interspersed with discussions and group exercises. [ . . . ]

The targeted audience for this workshop are participants involved in robotic design. The workshop will be of interest both for its focus on human-centered design –which is becoming more and more important as robots move out of industrial applications into everyday spaces – and for the practical advice offered on how to design more acceptable robots by addressing normative constrained thinking.

The workshop is open to all conference attendees and is expected to attract participants from industry and academia, including robot developers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students.

Based on research conducted across sectors and application areas, with diverse robot technologies, in private labs, universities, major robot companies, research institutes, technological companies, and in the context of use, this workshop strives to:

  1. provide different interdisciplinary perspectives on robot design, development, & use,
  2. expose a wider audience to novel developments in the area of ethical design, and
  3. bring different sub-communities together, to
  4. realize a human-centered reflection tool.

In this regard, the reflection tool will be relevant for the target audience of researchers, engineers, designers, developers, and integrators from the wide range of potential application areas for robots, such as production & manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, inspection & maintenance, but also service robots in education, entertainment, and healthcare (all sectors studied by the workshop organizers).

We expect roughly 50 participants, based on the organizers’ experience at previous robotics conferences (Human Robot Interaction, European Robotics Forum, IROS). Based on attendance at previous workshops led by the organizers, there is a demonstrated interest in multi-disciplinary events on robot design at large, and special interest in 1) interdisciplinary collaboration, 2) methods of human-centered design, and 3) ethical challenges in robotics.


  • Kasper Stoy (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Cathrine Hasse (Institut for Uddannelse og Pædagogik, Denmark)
  • Pat Treusch (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)
  • Kathleen Richardson (De Montfort University, UK)
  • Morten Roed Frederiksen (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Ben Vermeulen (Universität Hohenheim, Germany)
  • Karolina Zawieska (De Montfort University, UK)