Acceptable, intuitive, and desirable technologies for the future

Robotics holds tremendous potential for benefiting every domain of human life. Although this benefit has been limited to very specialized environments such as factories, technology has matured to integrate robotic technologies into the human environment for everyday use. However, this integration cannot be successful without understanding the interaction between robots and humans. Dr. Bilge Mutlu, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, seeks to enable the creation of acceptable, intuitive, and desirable technologies and their smooth integration by solving technical problems, creating design examples, and mapping out human expectations of and interactions with robotic technologies. By combining computational, human-centered, and design perspectives, he and his team are able to develop new guidelines, methods, and tools that help designers of robotic technologies create products and applications that will revolutionize our future.

Dr. Mutlu’s rich background in both industry and academia has prepared him to lead a team of researchers that uniquely bring together computational, behavior, and design perspectives in addition to using methods, tools, and knowledge from these areas. These are necessary components of what are needed to realize robotic technologies that can be integrated into everyday settings. Dr. Mutlu’s multi-disciplinary, multi-method perspective uniquely provides the necessary solutions and approaches for addressing problems that are foundational to the blending of our everyday interactions and the future of robotics. Dr. Mutlu expects the next five years to be critical for creating research products that will significantly shape the products and technologies that will find use in everyday settings in the next decade.

Current research includes:

  • Exploring Design Space: Dr. Mutlu and his team explore the design space for robotic technologies in order to build a design language and reference designs to demonstrate what is possible. For example, if a designer wants to design a flying robot (a.k.a. a drone) that moves in the human environment in a way that nearby users understand the robot's intentions, what design language would enable such a design? Dr. Mutlu’s group has addressed this problem by defining a set of flight primitives that can be manipulated using techniques from character animation in order to make the robot's flight more understandable for nearby users.

  • Methods and Tools: Dr. Mutlu’s team builds methods and tools to help future designers of robotic technologies devise, prototype, and build real-world applications. He and his team want these tools to be intuitive but powerful and enable designers with little technical background to develop applications of robotic technology, which usually requires an incredible amount of technical knowledge. For instance, his group built a visual authoring environment called Interaction Blocks that provides the designer with a pattern language and intuitive controls to create interactive behaviors for robots and implements the necessary functionality in the background.

  • People and Robotics: Dr. Mutlu identifies and builds upon people's interactions with robotic technologies that have been designed and integrated into real-world environments and extends his research into real-world applications through partnerships outside academia. For instance, he has conducted one of the first studies of people's interactions of real-world robot systems, resulting in an awarded and highly cited paper. Another example is a collaboration his group has with NASA to inform the design of a new flying robot to assist astronauts in space stations.

Dr. Mutlu was trained as a product designer and worked as one in the home-appliances industry during the emergence of ubiquitous and pervasive computing as a vision that pointed toward an increasing integration of computation, intelligence, and interactivity into day-to-day products and interfaces. While designing, he envisioned that computing was going to be central to the future of product design and that he therefore needed to build a stronger computational background. This propelled Dr. Mutlu towards quitting his job, applying for and receiving a prestigious Fulbright fellowship, and starting a Master’s program in Interaction Design at Carnegie Mellon, followed by a Ph.D. program in Human-Computer Interaction. During his Ph.D., Dr. Mutlu built on his background in computer science and learned about methods in behavioral science in addition to exploring the design of robotic technologies as computational, intelligent, and interactive products.

When Dr. Mutlu started his current position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he built a research program inspired by human-centered principles and methods for designing robotic technologies. Such methods draw on the interdisciplinary background he built, combining computing, behavioral science, and design. In doing this work, Dr. Mutlu has become exceptionally passionate about solving fundamental computation and design problems to enable robotic technologies to enter into day-to-day environments and, most importantly, to serve people.


Paper Awards at HRI 2008, HRI 2009, HRI 2011, UbiComp 2013, IVA 2013, CHI 2015

Paper Award Nominations at RSS 2013, HRI 2014

Allen Newell Award for Research Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University, 2013

NSF CAREER Award, 2012

Fulbright Fellowship, 2002

Mutlu, B. & Szafir, D. (2012). Teaching System for Improving Information Retention Based on Brain-State Monitoring. U.S. Patent Application 13/437,699.

Bukulmez, B., Tartan, A., Altun, U., Yalcin, M., Ulucay, Z., Buyukcan, E., Mutlu, B., Ucku, E., & Menekse, O. (2003). Cooker. International Patent # WO/2003/005865.