The study originates from previous research conducted by the university, which demonstrated how two people working together on a physical task also helped to improve performance for both participants.
To test this, they had two human partners move joystick-like devices connected by a virtual elastic band to follow targets on a computer screen and showed that non-verbal clues from the partner helped each person's performance.
Physically interacting individuals estimate the partner’s goal to enhance their movements https://t.co/BYygbOVK54— NatureHumanBehaviour (@NatureHumBehav) March 6, 2017
The new research, titled, Physically Interacting Individuals Estimate the Partner's Goal to Enhance Their Movements, was published in journal Nature, Human Behavior, saw the same group of academics use robots to explore how non-verbal cues could help to improve performance.
The hypothesis was that a human participant would use their sense of touch, position and self-movement to estimate and predict their partner's next action. In doing so, the robot could estimate their partner's response and would be able to match them, which would help to improve their overall performance.
In order to test their theory, the researchers paired the human participants with robots that were programed to perform either better or worse at the task than the human's ability.
The overall results proved that — whether the robots were programed to be better or worse than their human partner — they in fact ended up being more superior to their partners and appeared to either correct or compensate for the human movements in order to make them better.
The lead author of the report Atsushi Takagi, PhD student from Imperial's Department of Bioengineering, said that overall. when using programed partners, humans performed the tasks better than they would, if they were paired with other humans.
"This is the way a human partner would learn to work with a fellow human, as one would get used to the other's working patterns and become able to predict their moves."
Researchers believe that their findings could be used in the future to help patients with rehabilitation after they have suffered a stroke or that the robots could be used to deliver physiotherapy.
"There may be such a thing as a 'robotic physiotherapist.' Nobody wants to replace a human physiotherapist, but the number of hours they can spend with patients is limited. A robot physiotherapist could complement a human one, taking over when they have to move on to the next patient. Ultimately, this may speed up recovery times for patients," Atsushi Takagi said in a recent interview.
The researchers also said that they could imagine a scenario where a number of robots, carrying out treatments with patients in the comfort of their homes, are supervised remotely by a physiotherapist in a hospital location. However experts claim that there is potential for this type of technology to lead to robots stealing jobs typically done by humans.