Press release 99/23 - 20.12.2023

Cobots as a door opener into industry for people with autism spectrum disorder?

German-Italian study examines behavioral patterns of employees with and without autism spectrum disorder in industrial human-robot collaboration.

Pooja Prajod, research assistant at the Chair of Human-Centered AI at the University of Augsburg, discusses the experimental setup with Matteo Lavit Nicora © University of Augsburg
In an initial study, researchers from the AI Production Network at the University of Augsburg investigated the behavioral patterns of neurotypical employees and employees with autism spectrum disorder in direct collaboration with cobots in an industrial context. Several Italian partners were involved, such as the Istituto di Sistemi e Tecnologie Industriali Intelligenti per il Manifatturiero Avanzato (STIIMA-CNR), the Catholic University of Milan, the University of Bologna and the scientific institute Eugenio MEDEA project. The results show the advantages of a workplace adapted to the respective needs and are intended to be the starting point for greater attention to physical and mental health in Industry 4.0. They were published in the international journal "Frontiers in Psychology".

In small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), people are increasingly working together with collaborative robots, or cobots for short. This has a significant impact on their physical and mental health: without contact with human colleagues, conventional robots - usually in the form of just a robot arm - offer no social feedback combined with a highly monotonous work orientation. This new work situation in Industry 4.0 is the focus of research at the Chair of Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Augsburg. In the context of the AI Production Network based at the university, a current study is investigating the behavioral patterns of neurotypical test subjects and test subjects with autism spectrum disorder in industrial human-robot collaboration. The aim was to find out whether the groups differ and, if so, what lessons can be learned from this. The results of the study, which breaks new ground by including adults with autism spectrum disorder in particular, show the advantages of a workplace adapted to the respective needs and should pave the way for strengthening physical and mental health in Industry 4.0.

The study

"Cobots work according to predefined routines with fixed work orders and procedures. The predictability of their actions and the reliability of their execution represent a great potential for inclusion for people with autism spectrum disorder. Nevertheless, this has not been researched until now," explains Pooja Prajod, research associate at the Chair of Human-Centered AI. She made significantly to the study and was a co-author of the paper "Behavioral Patterns in Robotic Collaborative Assembly: Comparing Neurotypical and Autism Spectrum Disorder Participants", which was recently published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology”. In the study, eight neurotypical participants and eight participants with autism spectrum disorder worked in an industrial-style, laboratory-based collaborative robotic cell for three and a half hours on five consecutive days, assembling components together with the cobot. The researchers recorded this on video and observed the participants during the study. "We obtained extensive data from this material: On the one hand, we examined the videos quantitatively using the NOVA annotation tool, and we analyzed the notes from our observations qualitatively," says Prajod, outlining the methodology.

Results and conclusions

The data shows that the neurotypical participants adjusted most easily to working with the cobot, for example adapting their working rhythm to that of the cobot and ultimately producing more components. However: "The best cooperation was achieved by a test person with autism spectrum disorder. This underlines how important it is to consider the individual strengths of each person when designing workstations to exploit synergies between human and machine," Prajod explains. Regarding the costs incurred by setting up customized working environments for employees, the scientist says: "The investment is worthwhile in any case - because even employees without restrictions benefit from such a measure, which could prevent absences due to illness, for example, in the long term". The study is now to be continued with a larger number of participants to confirm and expand the results of the initial study.


Frontiers | Behavioral patterns in robotic collaborative assembly: comparing neurotypical and Autism Spectrum Disorder participants (

Further Informationen

The MindBot project

MindBot aims to develop methods and solutions to promote the mental health of workers in Industry 4.0 who perform cooperative tasks with so-called cobots. Cobots are industrial robots that work together with humans in confined spaces - without separation by special protective equipment - in production and manufacturing. MindBot aims to design workplaces in such a way that the individual needs and abilities of employees are optimally supported. The aim is to avoid negative experiences in the workplace, such as stress or boredom, which can lead to a significant impairment of health in the long term. In particular, MindBot should also help to integrate people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) into the world of work by improving the adaptability of the co-bots. MindBot was funded by the European Union.

The AI Production Network Augsburg

The AI Production Network Augsburg is an association of the University of Augsburg, the Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV, the Center for Lightweight Production Technology (ZLP) of German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Augsburg and the Augsburg Technical University of Applied Sciences. Regional industrial partners are also involved. The aim is to conduct joint research into AI-based production technologies at the interface between materials, manufacturing technologies, data-based modeling and digital business models. The AI Production Network Augsburg is being funded with 92 million euros from the Bavarian state government's High-Tech Agenda program.