One important aim of Agenda Industrie 4.0 is increased flexibility in manufacturing, which may be achieved, for example, through the use of robot systems that can be employed anywhere. This research focus examines aspects of human engineering and ergonomics in the design of novel workplaces where humans interact with mobile robots. Developing cooperative robot systems without factoring in eventual users can lead to these users being unable to master even a functionally well-designed system because of complexity or lack of usability. As a result, these systems can fail to find success on the market or be accepted and used by personnel. Failure to consider user needs can also result in high in-service costs if complex systems require long periods of learning (or even re-learning after periods of non-use). Finally, serious operating errors can occur if processes of human perception, decision-making and action are not appropriately taken into account.

So far, little research has been done on the human engineering aspects of equipping a workplace with highly automated, cooperative mobile robot systems. What distances between man and machine, what speeds and robot paths are appropriate for cooperative mobile robots? How can collisions and coordination failures be prevented? How can robots be integrated effectively into the workflow without challenging their human “colleagues” too much or too little? How can human-robot communication be designed to be intuitive for the human user? How does human-robot interaction change in teams with several robots? How do inherent characteristics of an individual (e.g. age, experience, trust in technology) or a robot (e.g. outward appearance, movements) influence system acceptance? These questions have to be answered to make cooperating with robots a safe and enjoyable experience for humans.

Although robot standards recognize the relevance of these questions, so far it has not been possible to develop concrete design recommendations due to a lack of empirical findings. Therefore, the aim of this research focus is to conduct a systematic and empirical examination of the effects of cooperating robots on humans and the cooperation effort, to derive evidence-based recommendations for workplace design and to support system development that takes into account human needs. Extending the scope of existing standards for safe human-robot interaction with mobile robots is another important objective of this research focus.