Q&A: Kerstin Dautenhahn on human interaction with robots

Kerstin Dautenhahn is Full Professor in the School of Computer Science at University of Hertfordshire where she coordinates the Adaptive Systems Research Group. She has pioneered research in social robotics, human-robot interaction, assistive technology and published more than 300 research articles.


What is the greatest opportunity in your industry to positively impact business and society?

Contributing to the quality of life and healthcare of users by developing adaptive, personalized and social robots that are able to learn from and with their users.

What is the biggest obstacle to integrating your technological development into industry and society?

Acceptability of robots is often influenced by very negative images of robots in the public domain (“robots taking over the world etc.”), while users who are involved in the evaluation of social robot technology are usually very positive if they can experience the actual benefits. A main challenge for research and development is to clearly demonstrate the benefits of such systems as well as the limitations.

What will be the key skills/jobs required in the future for your sector?

Developing social robots does not only require excellent skills in computer science and engineering, but importantly, knowledge of and experience in developing interactive, robotic systems. Interaction with social robots goes beyond common human-computer interaction, and requires specific attention to the quality and acceptability of interaction and communication with such machines in order to facilitate ‘natural’ human-robot interaction.

What emerging technology are you most excited about - personal or business or society wise?

I am most excited about social robots that are not only fun to interact with, but have clear benefits in terms of health or quality of life of their users. Such machines do not necessarily require very complex levels of general purpose intelligence, but they need to be able to adapt and learn in human-inhabited environments.

Kerstin Dautenhahn will be speaking about the Societal Issues of Deploying Robotic Technology at RE.WORK Technology Summit in London next month on 18-19 September.

Find out further information on how to attend here: https://www.re-work.co/tech

This week’s must-reads!


The tech world is rapidly evolving and it’s hard to keep up! To help you keep up to date we’ve made a selection of the last week’s best tech articles you should be reading:

"Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function."

"Large swarms of robots could revolutionise construction, by allowing structures to build themselves, says Roderich Gross, a robotics lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK, who recently acquired some Kilobots for his own research. They could also be useful for environmental monitoring, or even make their way inside humans, if they could be made small enough."

"The developments may mean it is possible for those who live with paraplegia, or who have been involved in accidents where areas of their spinal cord have been damaged, to be able to move their limbs even though the brain may not be able to communicate with the relevant area of the spinal cord."

"These little bacterial robots can do anything – produce biofuels, work as surgical devices, clean water – anything you can imagine a bacterium to do,” Barkeloo said. “We’re working on one that strips paint off a wall."

"The deep learning community — LeCun included — are working torewrk improve the technology. Today’s most widely used convolutional neural nets rely almost exclusively on supervised learning. Basically, that means that if you want it to learn how to identify a particular object, you have to label more than a few examples. Yet unsupervised learning — or learning from unlabelled data — is closer to how real brains learn, and some deep learning research is exploring this area."

"When 19th-century engineers decided their new-fangled locomotives could be driven underground beneath London’s crowded streets, they began a tradition for technological innovation that the capital’s transport system has never lost. Today the cutting edge has moved from steam to cyber, but the driving force is the same as it was for the Victorians – how can more people be moved more quickly and efficiently through the capital’s jumbled, crowded streets?"

"Will people be comfortable getting in an airplane with no pilot, even if domestic passenger drones have a much better safety record than human piloted commercial aviation? Will a patient be disconcerted or pleasantly surprised by a medical device that makes small talk, terrified or reassured by one that makes highly accurate incisions?"

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Check out our Facebook page & Linkedin showcase pages for more interesting links and articles:

RE.WORK on Facebook

Internet of Things 
Deep Learning 

Meet the Kilobots, the world’s largest autonomous robotic swarm


The world’s largest robotic swarm has been created using small, simple bots. For the first time, an army of more than 1000 robots has autonomously formed complex 2D shapes like stars or letters of the alphabet.The system, developed by Mike Rubenstein of Harvard University and his colleagues, is inspired by the way ants team up, for example to form rafts that keep them afloat or the way cells can band together to form the shape of an organ.

The simple bots, called Kilobots, have an onboard microcontroller, infrared sensors and transmitters for communication, and vibration motors that allow them to slide straight or turn. By flashing on and off, they can tell how far they are from nearby bots by measuring light intensity.

To do the assembling, the desired end shape is first transmitted to all the robots and then four stationary robots are positioned by hand to mark the shape’s starting point. Next, some of the robots start to shuffle until they reach a place-holding robot and then fan out from that point to stop in the right place. Each robot can only communicate with the others nearby. Successive robots build up the shape by stopping near the robots already in place. 

Large swarms of robots could revolutionise construction, by allowing structures to build themselves, says Roderich Gross, a robotics lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK, who recently acquired some Kilobots for his own research. They could also be useful for environmental monitoring, or even make their way inside humans, if they could be made small enough. “Swarms of micro-scale robots could travel inside the vascular network for non-invasive diagnosis and treatment,” says Gross.


Other applications for swarm robotics could include:

  • Search and rescue missions
  • Highway and building construction
  • Special-purpose construction
  • Building levees in flood zones, laying out sandbags
  • Barriers around toxic chemical spills
  • Supports in partially collapsed buildings
  • Shelters in war zones

Read more at New Scientist

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

If you’re looking to learn more about how robotics is shaping the future of society and business, we will be exploring this further at the RE.WORK Technology Summit on 18-19 September & at RE.WORK The Future of Robotics Forum on 14 October 2014.

At RE.WORK Technology Summit next month we’ll be holding a session covering swarm robotics with Sabine Hauert, Lecturer at the University of Bristol, where she designs swarm of nanobots for biomedical applications. 

Before joining the University of Bristol, Sabine was a Human Frontier Science Program Cross-Disciplinary Fellow at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT where she designed cooperative nanoparticles for cancer treatment. Her passion for swarm engineering started in 2006 as a PhD student at EPFL Switzerland making swarms of flying robots for rescue operations. Passionate about science communication, Sabine is the Co-founder and President of the Robots Association, Co-founder of the ROBOTS Podcast and Robohub, as well as Media Editor for the journal Autonomous Robots.

Register & get more info here: https://www.re-work.co/events/tech

At the RE.WORK The Future of Robotics Forum, we’ll be discussing:

  • Commercialising Robotics
  • Public Perception
  • Return on Investment 
  • Robots in Human Environments
  • Future of Agriculture 
  • Manufacturing & Automation 
  • Assisted Living & Healthcare

Super Early Bird tickets end next week on 19 August! Visit the event page to register: https://www.re-work.co/workshops/future-of-robotics

PlanetTech News interviews RE.WORK Conference founder Nikita Johnson

Attempting to set itself apart from other technology or academic conferences, the RE.WORK Technology Summit combines science, technology and entrepreneurship, with a focus on exponentially growing and breakthrough technologies that can have positive impact on cities, society and business. 

In this interview with PlanetTech News, Nikita Jonson explains her motivations and role in establishing and running RE.WORK.

Please tell us briefly about you career and interests.

I’m the founder of RE.WORK, a platform of events bringing together breakthrough technology, cutting-edge science and entrepreneurship shaping the future of business and society. Previously I have worked at the Department for International Development and I have a Masters in Urbanisation and Development from London School of Economics (LSE).
My passion is discovering new technologies with the potential to have a positive impact on solving global challenges.  
You are founder of RE.WORK, could you explain how you started this project, what is the story behind it?
My background is in international development and urbanisation, and whilst I was studying my Masters I co-founded a startup incubator for students and Alumni to provide them with support to start up their own businesses in the tech and social enterprise sectors. RE.WORK stemmed from my mission to bring new, exciting and emerging technology to tackle global challenges in society such as population growth in cities, accessible education and healthcare, more sustainable energy sources and efficient urban areas. 
What is the concept of RE.WORK and how it differs from other tech workshops and meetings?
RE.WORK brings together leading technologists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry leaders to share case studies, research and technological innovations to integrate cutting-edge technology and science into our lives. We focus on three main areas: 1) breakthrough technology and cutting-edge science; 2) a multi-disciplinary approach - bringing together scientists, designers, businesses, entrepreneurs and technologists; and 3) focusing on the impact of technology on society and business to ensure it tackles real problems and challenges. 

This week’s must-reads!


The tech world is rapidly evolving and it’s hard to keep up! To help you keep up to date we’ve made a selection of the last week’s best tech articles you should be reading:

• IBM chip mimics brain, claims capabilities are unprecedented

 IBM has developed a “neurosynaptic computer chip” that is modeled on the architecture of the brain. It holds great promise for business, medical, and computer processing breakthroughs, while consuming very little power.

• Robotic suit gives shipyard workers super strength

Workers building the world’s biggest ships could soon don robotic exoskeletons to lug around 100-kilogram hunks of metal as if they’re nothing

• Top 5 Topics not to be missed at the Internet of Things Summit

With the RE.WORK Internet of Things Summit in San Francisco coming up in November, we looked at the top 5 topics that will be discussed.

• Robots inspired by origami fold themselves into motion - BBC News

Researchers in the US have developed self-folding robots that are able to take shape and crawl without human intervention.

• Meet the magical computing that puts the human into artificial intelligence - City AM

Ben Medlock, RE.WORK Speaker and co-founder of SwiftKey, talking about AI, Machine Learning and the impact they’ll have on our everyday lives

• Your Eyes Will Unlock Everything

You can forget all those combinations of letters and numbers, you can now unlock everything without performing a memory exercise.

• New Wearable Baby Monitor Is Like a Fitbit for Infants

A new wearable for babies is trying to give parents some peace of mind, and maybe a few extra hours of sleep.

Check out our Linkedin showcase pages for more interesting links and articles:

Internet of Things
Deep Learning

Top 5 Topics not to be missed at the Internet of Things Summit


From the devices running your home to personalised healthcare to smarter cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to have a huge role in the future of business and society.

However, where the IoT promises new opportunities for smoother processes and time efficiency in day to day life, it also opens up new areas for security threats. How will IoT technologies affect the future of the global community, and what challenges do we face by integrating them?

With the RE.WORK Internet of Things Summit in San Francisco coming up in November, we looked at the top 5 topics that will be discussed.

*Summer Special - 20% discount* off all tickets for RE.WORK events 
Use the discount code August20 - offer ends Midnight BST Monday 11 August! 

Get your tickets here: http://www.re-work.co/events

RE.WORK Technology Summit - 30+ Speakers Announced

More than 30 speakers have now been announced for the RE.WORK Technology Summit taking place in London on 18-19 September. 

Speakers include:


Sonny Vu, the Founder of Misfit Wearables


Sonny is a pioneer in wearables, striving to create products that can solve real challenges in society and that people can wear for a long time.


Ben Medlock, the Co-Founder and CTO of SwiftKey


The winner of multiple awards including one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies in productivity 2014, Swiftkey is on a mission to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to create the next generation predictive keyboard app.


Aubrey de Grey the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation


Aubrey is a pioneer in regenerative medicine and argues that aging is merely a curable disease. At SENS Foundation he is creating a new roadmap on a global crusade to defeat biological aging.


Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Swarm Robotics at the University of Bristol


Sabine is a leading researcher in swarm nanobots used for biomedical applications, created using machine learning and crowdsourcing. She is applying her research to discover how trillions of nanobots can work together to improve the detection and treatment of tumors.


Chris Brauer, CAST Co-Director of Goldsmiths, University of London


Chris has developed Project Virtual Assistant which is a research effort bringing the virtual assistant of the future to life for users and service suppliers. He is exploring what the next generation of technologies like Apple’s Siri or Google Now might look like, and importantly, what people really want from such a powerful service augmenting our humanity with technology.


Bertolt Mayer, Professor for Organizational & Economic Psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology


Bertolt is a pioneer in bioengineering and will be discussing advancements in the future of bionics. He will also discuss some of the wider ethical questions  looming for prosthetics advancements. 

View the full line up of speakers here and the schedule here

Early Bird tickets end FRIDAY 1 AUGUST. Book here


Nanoparticles & Swarm Robotics - Q&A with Sabine Hauert

We spent a few minutes with Sabine Hauert who is presenting on nanoparticles and swarm robotics at the RE.WORK Technology Summit on 18-19 September in London.

What is the greatest opportunity in your industry to positively impact business and society?

Flocks of birds, social insects, crowds, and cellular systems can exhibit seemingly complex behaviors including collective motion, optimization, decision making, and structure building. These swarm systems don’t need a leader, can scale up to large numbers, are robust to failure, and rely on simple individuals with limited capabilities. Similar concepts could help engineer artificial swarms for real world applications. This is especially relevant in the biomedical field where increasingly capable agents, including DNA machines, synthetic bacteria, nanoparticles, and magnetic materials are expected to work in very large numbers to deliver enough drugs to a tumor, or light it up for imaging applications. Even for the simplest nanoparticles, it’s often difficult to predict what 10^13 will do in a complex tumor environment. Engineering swarm systems in the biomedical field could lead to more effective treatments and diagnostics.

- What is the biggest obstacle to integrating your technological development into industry and society?

Swarm strategies are often difficult to engineer because there is no obvious link between the design of the individuals and the behaviors that emerge at the level of the swarm. One analogy is that if you look at a single bird in a flock, it’s difficult to back out the behaviors from which flocking emerges. Engineering swarm systems therefore requires us to design new tool, including simulations, machine learning, bio-inspiration, and crowdsourcing that allow us to explore many individual designs and observe the resulting emergent behaviors. Furthermore, the success of a swarm strategy in real world applications is sometimes difficult to prove because it relies on emergent properties. This can be a hurdle in areas that are highly regulated.

- What will be the key skills/jobs required in the future for your sector?

Swarm engineers could benefit from cross-disciplinary training that allows them to understand the full pipeline from defining a desired swarm behavior, and designing and testing the behaviors in simulation, to finally translating the results to real-world systems. Such a “systems approach” is proving key to understanding complex systems.

- What emerging technology are you most excited about - personal or business or society wise?

Bioengineers are now capable of designing nanoparticles that can move, sense and act in the body in a controlled fashion by changing their size, shape, charge, coating, cargo and material. The behavior of nanoparticles in the body is also increasingly understood. The combination of technology and understanding is enabling the very first steps towards the design of more intelligent and cooperative treatments that build on knowhow in the engineering and swarm robotics communities. The Bhatia lab at MIT for example was able to design a system in which nanoparticles communicate the location of a tumor to other nanoparticles, resulting in a 40 fold increase in the amount of drugs delivered to the tumor.

Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Robotics at Bristol University will be presenting at the RE.WORK Technology Summit in London on 18-19 September.

For further information or to book your place visit: https://www.re-work.co/events/tech

Save £200 - book your place at the RE.WORK Technology Summit on 18-19 September in London by Friday! 

View the full schedule here: https://www.re-work.co/events/tech/schedule


Q&A with Lewis Davey on Future Cites

We spent a few minutes speaking with Miles Davey from Lewis Davey to look at smart cities, clean technology and sustainability. 

Q1. You work across industries of Town Planning, Sustainability and Cleantech. How do you encourage collaboration between these three sectors?
Many of the businesses that Lewis Davey work with have a wide ranging interest across Town Planning, Sustainability & Cleantech and naturally we also look to promote the other parts of our offering to our customers. It’s just a case of asking “Is there anyone else we should be speaking with?” Often we end up in meetings with a Head of Planning and a Head of Sustainability.

From our experience, Future Cities tend to tie together a lot of different divisions within a business - sometimes someone has been appointed to lead on this, other times others have an interest in Smart Cities and take a lead off their own back.

Q2. Cross-sector collaboration is key to successful smart cities. How do you recommend companies cope with the increasingly diverse number of skills required from data analysis to engineering to knowledge of rapidly advancing technologies?
From our perspective, there is no doubt that specialising in a particular industry, adds value and expertise to the recruitment process through concentrated networks and a deeper understanding. However, identifying and attracting talent still falls back to a reasonably standard methodology. Companies looking to attract the best talent should ask themselves: what’s great about working for us? what sets us apart from their competitors? What is the “opportunity” for a prospective candidate - what progression is there? You also want to spend time thinking about what problem you are looking to solve or what opportunity are you looking to maximise. Try not to be too prescriptive around qualifications, relevant experience – by thinking out of the box you are more likely to attract and find great talent.

Collaborate – speak to relevant colleagues. Get colleagues to talk to their network about what you are doing and what you want to do – you might find out some interesting information on the market that changes how you approach the hiring process. Candidates might come forward as interested in exploring at the opportunity.

Q3. Will private companies or investment from the public sector lead the transition to smarter cities?
I think it’s a mix of both. I was at a recent event and I remember Steve Lewis from Living PlanIT talking about how most the investment was coming from the private sector. Personally I think Private companies should lead on the transition but Local Authorities need to be more involved. Budgetary restraints are holding back some schemes but Smart Cities doesn’t have to be all about implementing an expensive IT system – it can be just a case of talking to a group of neighbouring local authorities and sharing resource around Energy Management, for instance. Politics needs to start looking at longer cycles. Challenges from Climate Change and population growth require us to look 20 years plus into the future and put effective strategies into place. A longer term view will help with how we look at ROI.

Q4. Smarter city implementations must address economic drivers in the city. How can urban planners and technologists ensure economic targets are met?
I think this is where collaboration comes in. If planners, architects and technologists talk to economists and governing bodies about economic targets early doors, then they are more likely to be able to integrate that into the design process. What’s the incentive to do so though if the end client is private sector ?

Q5. How important are policy frameworks and communication networks for future, smart cities?
Very. Planning policy has had an influence on where we build new developments and how we mitigate for climate change. The impacts of climate change and population growth, particularly in cities, will be immense and policy should and needs to account for this. Communication will be vital for a more connected and sustainable world where IT, Engineering and Telecoms come together.

Q6. You can create integrated, connected cities by augmenting the infrastructure already in place. Do you agree?
To an extent yes. The amount of data that is now being created is staggering and a worry though – I wonder whether there’s enough capacity to fulfil the demands? One for the IT boffins…

Q7. What skill set will be most in demand in the next decade to realise smarter cities?
I don’t think there will be anyone skill set and Smart Cities is all about bringing together a melting pot of different skills and talents. However, demand is linked to supply and, in the UK at least, there is a shortage of Engineers. With vast challenges ahead in regard to infrastructure, I can imagine that Engineers will continue to be in high demand

Q8. How should a corporate sustainability strategy align with a future cities plan?
That’s a tough one. What comes first? Most big corporates have sustainability strategies in place and obviously they should take into account their surroundings. Certainly any city wide transport initiatives and such like should be integrated into a sustainability strategy.

Q9. What emerging technologies will be most disruptive for the third industrial revolution?
Energy Storage should play a massive part. As the Grid becomes Smarter and decentralised energy increases how we store our energy will be key.

Q10. Which cities are currently leading the way to a smarter, more efficient and sustainable future?
I’m from the South West so I’d have to mention Bristol. Glasgow obviously did well out the Future Cities as did Peterborough. Further afield Cape Town and Bilbao and Copenhagen have done great things.

Lewis Davey are partnering the RE.WORK Cities Summit taking place in London on 4-5 December. Find out further information on how to attend here

Did you miss RE.WORK The Future of Education Workshop at Makerversity in June? Catch a 2 minute overview here. #edtech14 

Here’s the latest news from the RE.WORK Team - July 2014

First 25 Speakers announced for the RE.WORK Technology Summit

The first line up of speakers have been announced for the RE.WORK Technology Summit in London on 18-19 September

The agenda at this year’s summit includes:

  • Sonny Vu, the Founder of Misfit Wearables, sharing his insights on creating wearable computing products and personalised healthcare;
  • Ben Medlock, the Co-Founder and CTO of SwiftKey, discussing the impact of artificial intelligence on future business and society and the key questions we should be exploring for the smart AI revolution;
  • Aubrey de Grey the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a pioneer researcher in the aging process and regenerative medicine;
  • Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Swarm Robotics at the University of Bristol, a leading researcher in swarm nanobots used for biomedical applications, created using machine learning and crowdsourcing;
  • Chris Brauer, CAST Co-Director of Goldsmiths, University of London, will be presenting his latest findings in the impact of wearables on the workplace;
  • Bertolt Mayer, Professor for Organizational & Economic Psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology is a pioneer in bioengineering and will be discussing advancements in the future of bionics. 

Chris Brauer CAST Co-Director of Goldsmiths, University of London, said "I’m looking forward to presenting my latest innovation at the RE.WORK Technology Summit this year alongside a great lineup of pioneers in emerging technology and scientific breakthroughs".

London Technology Week

The RE.WORK Future of Education event took place in last month during London Technology Week.

You can view an overview video featuring the event here

Further coverage of the event will be coming soon. #edtech14

RE.WORK Technology Summit - Berlin Reviews

Postnode Digital attended the recent RE.WORK Technology Summit in Berlin in June and published a write up of the event here.

"RE.WORK proved to be a fertile breeding ground for bold ideas and strong proposals, in a relaxed atmosphere favorable to dialogue. Feeling uplifted by what we have seen and heard there, we were eager for more to come on Day Two."

Iain Cameron also featured the event on TechCity Blog here.

"It was held in an excellent conversion of a ruined church in the former Eastern segment of the city. Nikita explained the event goal as to explore how innovative new advances in science, technology and entrepreneurship are reshaping business and society with a mix of technologists, entrepreneurs, researchers and industry leaders". 

Until next time!

Nikita and the RE.WORK team.

The RE.WORK Future of Education event features in an overview video of the inaugural London Technology Week, created by London & Partners.

New Speaker Spotlight Series for the RE.WORK Technology Summit in London on 18-19 September

First up is Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft UK. 


Q: What is the greatest opportunity in your industry to positively impact business and society?
I think the biggest opportunity that the tech industry faces is actually not the technological developments themselves (although of course they are important) but it is instead the potential of the human beings that use them. We are but the first generation of a digital society and as such we are still learning how to adapt our old ways of working (and living) to ways that really release the true potential of what technology really offers. The more we become accustomed to the potential, the more benefit we will receive, both at work and more broadly as a society.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle to integrating your technological development into industry and society?
Ironically, the biggest obstacle we face is not the technology, but is instead our culture (at work and as a society) technology alone cannot help, it has to be implemented to support a very different cultural approach and we equally have a job to do to ensure that our society (both from a human and legal perspective) is in the right place to enable it to flourish and help us achieve great things.

Q: What will be the key skills/jobs required in the future for your sector?
I think the key skills in any sector are going to move us away from specific jobs and tools, and much more to key skills like critical thinking, a “hacking” culture (where we want to take things apart to understand them and make them more efficient) and especially an affinity (or at least an appreciation) for the power of data. Technology has a part to play in this but again is not the answer on its own. The successful individuals of the future will be those that can make active choices about where technology can help and equally where it can’t.

Equally, I think our whole definition of “career” is going to change. As we live longer and our working lives are extend and given the increasingly mobile nature of the workforce, I think we’re in for some dramatic changes. Part of the answer for individuals lies within Charles Handy’s definition of a “portfolio career” where individuals spend time extending several different aspects of their lives (and skills) and employers increasingly break free of the constraints of specific “job descriptions” in return for a more agile, engaged workforce.

Q: What emerging technology are you most excited about - personal or business or society wise?
The technology that has me most excited is the concept of “machine learning” – essentially the ability for computers to make sense of patterns in vast “oceans” of data. This is the process that will fundamentally transform our relationship with technology but more importantly it will change the way we live, work and play forever. As an example, only a few weeks ago, Microsoft demonstrated real-time speech to speech language translation via Skype – can you imagine what our world of work (or play) might look like when we are no longer separated by different languages? This is but one example of a huge number of developments that will present incredible opportunities to us – but only if we can be ready to harness the power they offer to help us achieve more.

Dave will be presenting at the RE.WORK Technology Summit on 18-19 September on “The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge”.