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University of Southern California

1. St. Clair, Aaron B. Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations.

Degree: PhD, Computer Science (Robotics and Automation), 2015, University of Southern California

Robots have become increasingly capable of performing a variety of tasks in real-world dynamic environments, including those involving people. Beyond competently performing the tasks required of them, service robots should also be able to coordinate their actions with those of the people around them in order to minimize conflicts, provide feedback, and build rapport with human teammates in both work environments (e.g., manufacturing) and home settings. Humans coordinate their actions in various task settings through structured social interaction aimed at representational alignment and intentional feedback. In order for robots to coordinate their actions using similar modalities, they must be capable of contextualizing the actions of human partners and producing relevant natural communicative behaviors as the task progresses. This dissertation is motivated by the high-level goal of producing effective social feedback during task performance, and alleviating the burden of coordinating the team's joint activity by allowing human users to interact with robots through natural social modalities as partners rather than as operators. ❧ This dissertation develops an approach for constructing and generalizing models of role-based coordinating communication during physically-decoupled human-robot task scenarios, specifically pairwise collaborations in which a person and a robot work together to achieve a shared goal. The approach is validated in different task contexts with different user populations using objective and subjective measures of task performance and user preferences. To support role-allocative communication observed in our pilot experiments with two-person teams, the human-robot collaboration problem is formulated as a Markov decision process in which roles are represented by a set of policies capturing different action selection preferences and accounting for unequal capabilities between human and robot collaborators. A probabilistic method is used to track the user's activity over time and to recognize the role assumed by the user, communication is then planned given the expected policy of the user, the policy of the robot, and the current task state. The communication generated by the robot consists of three types of speech actions and associated co-verbal behavior: 1) self-narration of the robot's activities, 2) role allocation suggestions for the user, and 3) empathetic displays when positive and negative state changes occur. ❧ The approach was validated initially on a dynamic augmented reality herding task with a population of convenience users using objective metrics (idle time, distance traveled) as well as subjective evaluations (user preference, perceived intelligence of the robot), where a higher utilization of the robot and more equitable path distance was observed in comparison to a non-communicating robot. The generalizability of the approach to a different task setting and user population was also evaluated on a cooking task with an elderly user population. The contributions of this dissertation… Advisors/Committee Members: Mataric, Maja J. (Committee Chair), Sukhatme, Gaurav S. (Committee Member), Ayanian, Nora (Committee Member), Hagedorn, Aaron T. (Committee Member).

Subjects/Keywords: human-robot interaction; human-machine collaboration; robotics; verbal feedback; collaboration

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APA (6th Edition):

St. Clair, A. B. (2015). Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

St. Clair, Aaron B. “Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations.” 2015. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Southern California. Accessed July 18, 2019.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

St. Clair, Aaron B. “Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations.” 2015. Web. 18 Jul 2019.


St. Clair AB. Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2015. [cited 2019 Jul 18]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

St. Clair AB. Coordinating social communication in human-robot task collaborations. [Doctoral Dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2015. Available from: