Human Factors Engineering & Human-Robot Interactions

A major challenge when designing technology that interacts with human is that any give human-device pairing will most likely behave in ways that are not seen when either the human or the device acts on its own. Also, because human movement and behavior are so complicated, it is generally not possible to predict how a human, let alone the diversity of humans, will interact with a new piece of technology, even with extensive prior knowledge of how the human body works. Therefore, we need to use creative methods to measure and characterize the human factors at play in these interactions, if we want to design better semi-autonomous cars, video game controllers, rehabilitation robots, etc.

So what do we do? For a clue, take a careful look at the image above. In the REACT lab we use Electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity; see the pairs of black sensors on her forearm. We use camera- and IMU-based Motion Capture to measure movement of the body’s limbs; see the various LEDs placed over the body, enough to determine the position and orientation of each limb segment. And we use force and angle sensors to measure the physical interaction between the human and the device, and how the device moves in response. Finally, we close the loop by applying psychophysical methods to measure the operator’s own perception of that force and movement.

Thus even with our incomplete understanding of the complexities of the human body, we can make meaningful observation and draw practical conclusions that inform the design of some of today’s most exciting technologies!


Smith, B. W., Bueno, D. R., Zondervan, D. K., Montano, L., & Reinkensmeyer, D. J. (2019). Bimanual wheelchair propulsion by people with severe hemiparesis after stroke. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology.

Hohorst, W. H., Kinder, C. M., Lodha, N., & Smith, B. W. (2019). Is simulator-based driver rehabilitation missing motion feedback?IEEE International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics. Podium presentation.

Sanders, Q., Okita, S., Lobo-Prat, J., De Lucena, D. S., Smith, B. W., & Reinkensmeyer, D. J. (2018). Design and control of a novel grip amplifier to support pinch grip with a minimal soft hand exoskeleton. IEEE RAS and EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics.