Dawn Castillo, MPH, NIOSH/DSR; Hongwei Hsiao, Ph.D., NIOSH/DSR
The Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) was established in 2017. This virtual center brings together researchers from throughout the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with the mission of providing scientific leadership to guide the development and use of occupational robots that enhance worker safety, health, and wellbeing. Robotic technologies have advanced beyond the traditional industrial robots. CORR focuses on emerging robotic technologies, such as collaborative robots, mobile robots, powered exoskeletons, remotely controlled or autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots that increasingly use advanced artificial intelligence. The Center works in partnership with key stakeholders and supports and conducts research to: ? Identify opportunities to better protect worker safety and health using robotics ? Increase understanding of human and robot interactions to ensure human worker safety ? Improve the ability to identify and track injuries and fatalities involving robotics ? Provide guidance on working safely with robotics
Extensive research has been conducted by NIOSH and others on the safety of robots since they were first introduced to workplaces more than 40 years ago. This research focused on traditional robots, and the key to safety with these robots was to maintain isolation between the human worker and the robot using guards, cages, or other controls. However, as robots have become more advanced, interactions with humans have become more common. In today?s workplaces, it is no longer the case that robots are isolated from workers. Collaborative robots now work in the same space as humans. Mobile robots, including unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, can move freely through workplaces. Workers wear powered exoskeletons or operate remote-controlled equipment, and autonomous vehicles transport people and material. These emerging technologies create opportunities to protect workers? safety and health by having robots perform tasks that would be hazardous for humans. However, the interaction between humans and robots can also create new hazards. It?s difficult to identify robot-related injuries from current surveillance systems, but a recent NIOSH research identified 61 robot-related deaths between 1992 and 2015 using keyword searches of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has investigated 45 fatalities in which ?robot? was listed as a keyword in the investigation report. The occurrence of such fatalities will likely increase as robots are more widely used and as interactions with humans increase.
CORR includes researchers with expertise in robotics and automation as well as researchers with a wide range of expertise in epidemiology, cognitive psychology, ergonomics, and human factors. CORR research falls into four major categories: basic/etiologic, intervention, translation, and surveillance. Basic/etiologic includes, for example, the study of industry-specific robot-related health and safety issues. Intervention research includes the evaluation of robotics technologies as preventive measures for existing workplace hazards as well as the development and evaluation of interventions to reduce robot-related injuries. Translation includes the development and evaluation of guidance for the prevention of robot-related injuries and research on factors that could promote or discourage the use of safe practices around robots. Surveillance efforts include the development of surveillance methods to monitor robot-related injuries as well as case-based investigations of such injuries. The Center also supports research conducted by other organizations and works in partnership with other federal agencies, academic researchers, robotics manufacturers, employers, and trade organizations.
Currently, CORR researchers are conducting several research projects, including: ? Identification of Hazards and Risk Factors for Demolition Robot Operators ? Robot-Related Interventions: Measuring the Success of an Insurer-supported Grant Program ? Safe Human-Robot Interaction: Gaining New Knowledge to Protect Workers ? Large Truck Automation: Studying the Effect of Automation on Road Safety and Driver Behavior ? Robotics Technologies in Mining ? Drone Use in Construction and Their Effects on Workers at Heights ? Contact Avoidance Between Human Workers and Collaborative Robots ? Dynamic Force Impacts of Collaborative Robots on Humans In addition, NIOSH supports several extramural research efforts in robotics on topics including exoskeletons, drones, human-robot interfaces, and the benefits and risks associated with collaborative robots. Brief summaries of some of these research efforts are provided in the poster, along with links to more information on the CORR webpage, where users can also find NIOSH publications, scientific articles, NIOSH Science Blog posts, and other publications on this research.
Partnerships have been critical to the success of this research. Notably, NIOSH is a member of an alliance between NIOSH, OSHA, and the Robotics Industries Association to promote best practices for controlling exposures to hazards involving robot-human interactions. NIOSH is also a member organization of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute and has supported robotics research through the National Science Foundation?s National Robotics Initiative.
The NIOSH Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) has, since its establishment in 2017, generated impactful research to address the safety of workers who use, wear, or work near robots in today?s evolving workplace. More information on the Center?s research, publications, and partnerships can be found on our webpage.