Meaningful human control and variable autonomy in human-robot teams for firefighting

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Introduction: Humans and robots are increasingly collaborating on complex tasks such as firefighting. As robots are becoming more autonomous, collaboration in human-robot teams should be combined with meaningful human control. Variable autonomy approaches can ensure meaningful human control over robots by satisfying accountability, responsibility, and transparency. To verify whether variable autonomy approaches truly ensure meaningful human control, the concept should be operationalized to allow its measurement. So far, designers of variable autonomy approaches lack metrics to systematically address meaningful human control.

Methods: Therefore, this qualitative focus group (n = 5 experts) explored quantitative operationalizations of meaningful human control during dynamic task allocation using variable autonomy in human-robot teams for firefighting. This variable autonomy approach requires dynamic allocation of moral decisions to humans and non-moral decisions to robots, using robot identification of moral sensitivity. We analyzed the data of the focus group using reflexive thematic analysis.

Results: Results highlight the usefulness of quantifying the traceability requirement of meaningful human control, and how situation awareness and performance can be used to objectively measure aspects of the traceability requirement. Moreover, results emphasize that team and robot outcomes can be used to verify meaningful human control but that identifying reasons underlying these outcomes determines the level of meaningful human control.

Discussion: Based on our results, we propose an evaluation method that can verify if dynamic task allocation using variable autonomy in human-robot teams for firefighting ensures meaningful human control over the robot. This method involves subjectively and objectively quantifying traceability using human responses during and after simulations of the collaboration. In addition, the method involves semi-structured interviews after the simulation to identify reasons underlying outcomes and suggestions to improve the variable autonomy approach.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1323980
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers In Robotics and AI
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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