Computing That Serves

Applying Cognitive Engineering to Human-Robot Interaction


Thursday, December 13, 2007 - 11:00am


Julie Adams, Assistant Professor, Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Our research focuses on developing methods for humans to supervise and command unmanned vehicles, either ground or aerial. Our work has applied two techniques from cognitive engineering, goal-directed task analysis and cognitive work analysis, as a means of understanding two domains; emergency response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) device events and wilderness search and rescue (in support of BYU faculty members). The two analysis techniques have provided an understanding of cognitive factors that can affect a human’s ability to supervise unmanned vehicles from a remote location, while the humans must also be an integral component of the emergency response team. This presentation will focus on our CBRNE response work.

The purpose of applying these two analysis techniques to the CBRNE domain has been to identify how unmanned vehicles can best be integrated into the emergency response from the lowest user level of a dedicated vehicle operator to the highest user level of the incident commander. We have defined a hierarchy of users and are currently transforming the results into information flows that will guide the design and development of an integrated system of user interfaces and information visualizations that provide the appropriate level of data abstraction.

One goal of our work is to develop systems that permit a small number of humans (one or two) to simultaneously supervise ten or more vehicles, where the vehicles are either ground-based, aerial-based, or a combination of the two. Another goal is to develop a system that supports all potential users of the information provided by remote vehicles.


Julie A. Adams, Ph.D. received her B.S. in Computer Science (1989) and B.B.A. in Accounting (1990) from Siena College and her M.S.E (1993) and Ph.D. (1995) degrees in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. She is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at Vanderbilt University. She worked in Human Factors for Honeywell, Inc. and the Eastman Kodak Company from 1995 to 2000 and was an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology from 2000 until 2003. She conducts research in human-robotic interaction and distributed algorithms for multiple robotic systems. She is the recipient of a 2007 NSF CAREER award.