The IRAL Lab: Research

The Interactive Robotics and Language lab is a research laboratory in UMBC's Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department. We study robotics and natural language processing, with the goal of bringing the fields together: developing robots that people can talk to, so they can tell them to do tasks or explain about the world around them. This approach to learning to understand language in the physical space that people and robots occupy is called grounded language acquisition.

Why Talk to Robots?

Most deployed robots today are large, expensive machines that perform a particular task quickly and well, mostly in manufacturing and industrial settings. Robots build cars, manage inventory in warehouses, fly planes, and operate assembly lines. However, as we get better at building capable, inexpensive robots, it becomes possible to imagine robots used in a different way: as helpers in human-centric environments such as schools, hospitals, and homes.

Human-Robot Interaction

Having ubiquitous robots in human environments has the potential to change society, much as the shift from dedicated mainframes to ubiquitous personal computers has changed the world. Right now, however, robots are operated and programmed by technical experts. For them to be as universal and useful as personal computers, they need to be able to interact and communicate smoothly with people. This is the key insight behind the developing field of human-robot interaction, or HRI.
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