Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) 2018

An Alternative HRI Methodology: The Use of Ethnography to Identify and Address Ethical, Legal, & Societal (ELS) Issues

Aims     Activities     Topics     Submission     More

REELER is hosting a half-day workshop at the Human-Robot Interaction conference.

Participants must submit a 2-4 page position paper by 29 January to be included in the lightning talks and workshop proceedings special issue publication. 

Call for Position Papers

The organizing committee calls for position papers related to the workshop's theme & topics. We aim for cross-disciplinary participation and invite anyone who can offer insights into these topics to submit a position paper.

We particularly welcome contributions that concern the use of qualitative methodologies in HRI research, perspectives on ethics, interdisciplinary collaboration between the social and technical sciences, or empirical studies of robots and humans/society.

We will select participants based on the quality and relevance of their position papers. The accepted papers will be published on the workshop website and compiled in our workshop proceedings with the option to be submitted to a special issue publication.


  • Position papers must include the author’s views on one of the workshop topics AND the reasons for interest in the workshop.
  • The completed submissions should range from 2 to 4 pages (excluding references).
  • Please use the REELER Workshop Proceedings template.


Please note that there are two submission deadlines. The early deadline is for participants who may need an early decision (e.g. for travel visas or for the conference's early registration deadlines).

19   JAN       Early submission deadline (26 January notification)
29  JAN     Submission deadline (7 February notification)
31   JAN       Early registration
12   FEB       Accepted position papers published on workshop website
  5   MAR      Workshop

31   MAY      Submission deadline for Special Issue publication

Email your completed position papers to The REELER Project by 29 January 2018.

New perspectives on HRI

Consistent with the theme Robots for Social Good, our aim in this workshop is to present a novel methodological approach to HRI research that can lead to more ethical, sustainable, and responsible robotics. While robotic systems have long been part of industrial automation, over the last decade robots have begun to come out of their cages and into our everyday lives - on our production lines, in our hospitals, in our schools, in our fields, on our roads, in our homes, and in our workplaces.

Ethnographic research provides a close look at real-life experiences of human engagement with robotic technologies - in use and in design processes.  Ethnography can open up how we study the human needs and societal concerns that are emerging in response to these technologies. Ethnographic methods provide data that, through interdisciplinary collaboration, can help identify and address new ethical, legal, and societal (ELS) issues in robot design and implementation.

This workshop departs from prior HRI workshops by providing concrete methods for addressing ethical issues in actual human practices. Despite increasing interest in ethnographic methods, ethnographic methodology has not yet been the topic of an HRI workshop. Therefore, REELER has organized a workshop that contributes new uses of ethnography and qualitative methods as tools for research and collaboration in HRI.

Workshop Aims

The aim of this workshop is to engage participants in an interdisciplinary discussion of ethnography as an alternative research methodology in HRI research. Together, we will explore how the field of HRI may benefit from an expanded use of ethnography, which goes beyond user testing and user experience research to consider the full effects of robotic technologies on humans - both for the sake of developing more effective HRI and for safeguarding human and societal wellbeing.

We will unfold the benefits and challenges of conducting ethnographic research, drawing on our experiences in REELER and on participants’ experiences in their own research.

We will introduce the novel use of ethnographic research methodologies to: 1) understand and conceptualize users, work, robots, and design practices in new ways; 2) identify and address ELS issues, to ensure that future robot design processes take into account these new understandings.

Our overall purpose is to contribute a methodological approach to HRI that helps to identify ELS issues through ethnographic research methods, that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, and that broadens the scope of existing HRI research and development while providing concrete tools for addressing these ELS challenges.

Workshop Activities

The workshop will open with a presentation of ethnography as an alternative methodological approach in robotics research and development. Presenting REELER as an example, we will describe how ethnography and interdisciplinary collaboration have been integral to our ELS-oriented research; and how this approach might ensure design of robots for the social good.

The interactive portion of the workshop will be organized around the position papers submitted in relation to the topics: 1) Understanding users, work, robots, and design practices 2) Identifying and exploring ELS issues for sustainable and responsible robot development. We will engage participants in two thematic sessions each consisting of lightning presentations of position papers, and a moderated group discussion.

We will wrap up the discussions with a group-work session on how ethnographic research can be used in attendees’ own research, not only instrumentally as a tool in robot design and development processes, but also as a driver in ethical project designs.

Tentative Agenda

8:00-8:10       Welcome and Introduction

8:10-8:50       (Presentation) Ethnographic research - what is it?
                            Speakers’ experiences in REELER and other projects.

8:50-10:00     (Topic 1) Understanding users, work, robots, & design practices.
                            Lightning talks & moderated group discussion.

10:00-10:30   Coffee Break

10:30-11:40   (Topic 2) Identifying and exploring ELS issues.
                            Lightning talks & moderated group discussion.

11:40-12:15   (Group work) How can we incorporate these methods into HRI
                           research in order to ensure robots for the social good?

12:15-12:30    Sum-up and Workshop closing

The agenda may be adjusted based on the position papers received.

Workshop Topics

Topic 1: Understanding users, work, robots, and design practices

Position papers under this topic may concern:

  • Ethnographic studies of users
  • Workplace studies of robots
  • Ethnographic studies of robot design
  • Ethnographic data: ’nice to have’ or ’need to have’?

Topic 2: Identifying and exploring ELS issues for sustainable and responsible robot development

Position papers relating to this topic might address:

  • Impact of robots on social/work settings
  • Issues of inclusion/exclusion in e.g. healthcare robotics
  • Policy and legal issues in robotics research
  • Collaboration in design processes
  • Bridging the gap between robot design and users/society

Position paper topics are not limited to these suggestions, but should align with (or challenge) the themes of the workshop.

Emerging Ethnographic Insights

From a comprehensive review of HRI literature, we have found that the bulk of the literature addresses the efficacy and acceptability of human-robot interactions, with significantly less focus on human and societal concerns in everyday life, such as:

  • the discrepancy between how robot designers think about users and how humans actually experience robots in their everyday lives;
  • changes to environments that occur when robots are introduced (e.g. at construction sites and in agriculture);
  • how workplace robots impact pride and workmanship (e.g. masons and physical therapists);
  • how new robotic technologies can affect existing humanhuman interactions (e.g. workplace relations & collegiality); and
  • new demands on education and new forms of learning (e.g. the need for specific ’humanist’ education in robotics, or the need for new skills in the workforce).

These particular ELS issues have begun to emerge through ethnographic studies in the ongoing EU H2020 project, Responsible Ethical Learning with Robotics (REELER).

The REELER project uses ethnographic methods to study how robots are developed and implemented in everyday life. The researchers select cases on the basis of variation (human-proximity, sector, organization type, geography) within the field of robotics. Each robot-indevelopment is explored through ethnographic methods, including participant observation and qualitative interviews with roboticists, users, operators, and other affected stakeholders. Through crosscase analysis, REELER researchers identify ELS issues in the design, development, and implementation of robotics. 

We would like to bring ethnographers’ expertise into the multidisciplinary field of HRI, by sharing how REELER has benefited from an ethnographic methodological approach and an ELS-oriented project design. We will invite other researchers to present their own empirical research and experiences using qualitative methods, and challenge attendees to consider how their research might benefit from such use.

Organizing Committee

The organizing committee is composed of members of the interdisciplinary REELER project. This committee includes ethnographers, but also includes those from different disciplinary backgrounds who acknowledge the value of the ethnographic methodology and are collaborating with ethnographers to ensure a future of more responsible and ethical robotics.

Cathrine Hasse, anthropologist 
(Aarhus University) Professor of anthropology and learning and honorary professor in technoanthropology at Aalborg University. She is the project coordinator for REELER.

Maria Bulgheroni, roboticist 
(Ab.Acus) Electronic engineer and R&D Director at Ab.Acus srl, a research-driven, market-oriented company. Her background is in rehabilitation engineering with specific focus on wearable monitoring devices and robotic rehabilitation.

Kathleen Richardson, anthropologist 
(De Montfort University) Professor of ethics and culture of robots & AI and senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility.

Andreas Pyka, economist 
(University of Hohenheim) Professor and head of the Chair for Innovation Economics and Vice President for Internationalization.

Ben Vermeulen, economist
(University of Hohenheim) Post-doctoral research fellow at the Chair for Innovation Economics.

Karolina Zawieska, research fellow 
(De Montfort University) Research fellow in Ethics and Cultural Learning of Robotics.

Stine Trentemøller, research coordinator 
(Aarhus University) Quality manager and research coordinator for the REELER project. She has a background in communications.

Jessica Sorenson, research assistant 
(Aarhus University) Master's student and research assistant in the REELER project.