World's First Blueprint For Human Robot Interaction Launches

Thursday 1 August 2019

Small Robot Company joins forces with the John Lewis Partnership to create world's first blueprint for Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in the real world.

Will be unveiled at Google’s London HQ on August 1, with the aim of accelerating safe and ethical robotics that consumers can trust.

The Small Robot Company has joined forces with the John Lewis Partnership, strategic design consultancy Method and a number of leading robotics companies and industry bodies in the UK, to develop a blueprint for “Human Robotic Interaction” (HRI) in the 21st century.

Envisioned as an open framework to be evolved over time, this groundbreaking initiative will foster and accelerate the safe and ethical adoption of robotics across British industry. It will also help define how autonomous robotic technology should interact with people in the real world across different environments and sectors including manufacturing, retail and farming.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov is credited as the founder of the first laws of robotics when his 1942 short story Runaround outlined three rules governing robot behaviour, namely that an autonomous machine must not harm a person, always obey orders and protect its own existence without compromising its other principles. Seventy-seven years on, robot technology is increasingly ubiquitous across all sectors of the economy, with the explosion in autonomous robotics fuelled by Artificial Intelligence.  The number of  industrial robots active in the UK has grown by 30% according to the International Federation of Robotics highlighting the need for a framework to govern how robots should interact with humans as we start to encounter them in a wide range of everyday scenarios. 

The Human Robotic Interaction blueprint will look to define:

  • the proper characteristics and states of the robot persona
  • how the user/ robot relationship should function
  • how robots should be properly programmed - to ensure people find them engaging, trust-provoking and safe
  • how a robot should interact within the boundaries of its geospatial map
  • how a robot should respond to humans it encounters during the course of its work

The initial principles for the blueprint will be formally presented during a stakeholder consultation event on 1 August at Google's offices in London. This will be followed by a public consultation, supported by organisations such as the National Trust and LEAF. This will be launched at Countryfile Live on the same day in association with the National Trust. The output will then be developed into a first-of-its kind commercial HRI guide.

This unique initiative follows on from Small Robot Company’s first collaboration with the John Lewis Partnership last November, when it commenced a three year trial of its harvesting robots on the Waitrose & Partners farm in Leckford, Hampshire. The robotics company also continues to work closely with the John Lewis Partnership’s Room Y innovation team, which is assisting in the development of HRI as well as other innovative propositions that could transform the retail industry.

John Vary, Futurologist at the John Lewis Partnership, comments: “Britain is a melting pot for robotics innovation and the use of autonomous robot technology to assist human workers is a very real prospect for the future. Before we get there, we need to define how that relationship works. The John Lewis Partnership started out as a radical experiment in industrial democracy and innovation continues to remain at the heart of our business today. Therefore we are uniquely placed to support businesses like the Small Robot Company as this technology evolves.”

Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder, Small Robot Company, comments: “Real world robotics is set to explode. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, robots are now becoming truly autonomous, and we're about to see a massive influx of commercial robots in the consumer domain. In our shops, our factories, our hotels, our streets and our fields. It's vital that consumers can trust and feel comfortable with these encounters. So we're launching a cross-industry initiative to create a blueprint for robotics in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Other collaborators on the Human Robotic Interaction initiative include: Method, The Manufacturing Technology Centre, The Turing Institute, Dr Karina Vold of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, robotics designers Konpanion and industrial robotics start-up ZOA Robotics.

James Steiner, Method’s Design Director comments: "At Method, we design new interaction paradigms that often go beyond the screen, connecting people and technology in the most human way possible. We believe that Real World Robots will be powerful allies in creating a more sustainable, productive and fulfilling future for people and the planet. It’s a privilege to work with John Lewis Partnership, Small Robot Company and the rest of the HRI team to define some universal principles that can be easily applied to improve the design of any Human Robot Interaction scenario. We believe the output of this initiative will provide valuable decision-making tools to anyone embarking on creating a real world robot solution."

Matt Jones, Principal Designer at Google AI, comments: “I'm excited to host the discussion and understand the collective efforts of the group so far. AI, data and robotics are obviously close to Google's heart and we're keen to support those exploring a robust framework for humanscale robotics and AI.”

Aida Mehonic, Programme Manager for AI at The Alan Turing Institute comments: “Safety and ethics are of critical importance in artificial intelligence and robotics. Pioneering companies like the Small Robot Company are the exact type of ambitious start-up that the innovation community would like to see more of - trying to solve the environmental challenge, the biggest challenge of our generation, while also innovating with AI and robotics and working hard from the outset to ensure their products conform to the highest standard of safety and ethics. The work Small Robot Company and the wider HRI team is doing is the next step in responsible AI.”

Dr Karina Vold, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, comments: “It’s essential to consider the ethical and societal impacts of transitioning robots into human social environments. In particular, it’s important to take a holistic approach to design and implementation that considers all parties that could be affected, from developers to the general public. For this reason, I’m excited about the initiative to design best practices that are open, democratic, and adopted by many key players.”

Jeremy Hadall, Chief Engineer for Intelligent Automation, Manufacturing Technology Centre, comments: “Industrial robotics have been caged since their inception in the 1950s, with collaborative robots only being developed in the last ten years or so. But one of the issues with the development of 'cobots' has always been how do we make them interact with humans safely yet still leverage the benefits large industrial robots can bring. Understanding that interaction is key to enabling more effective collaboration between humans and robots, which can drive UK manufacturing forward. The MTC is really pleased to take part in this initiative with the Small Robot Company and their partners, looking at understanding those interactions and how to design the robots to work more efficiently with humans.”

Thiago Azevedo, Founder, ZOA Robotics, comments: “For service robots to work at their best alongside people, their behaviour needs to be clear and predictable. This HRI open framework will help new and existing companies to develop robots ready to collaborate with people in a broad range of environments and situations.


About the John Lewis Partnership

The John Lewis Partnership owns and operates two of Britain's best-loved retail brands - John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners. Started as a radical idea nearly a century ago, the Partnership is now the largest employee-owned business in the UK, with 83,900 employees who are all Partners in the business and share in its profits. The Partnership operates on strong democratic principles, which means that every Partner has a say in how the organisation is run. The business has annual gross sales of over £11.7bn, 394 shops and a leading online business. Its commercial strategy is focused on differentiation rather than scale, through investment in innovation and Partner led service. As part of this strategy, the Partnership has a unique innovation team called ‘Room Y’ which is made up of five Partners including a Futurologist, to explore long-term future scenarios and help identify new opportunities for innovation in a fast changing world. 

About Waitrose & Partners

Waitrose & Partners has 344 shops in England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands, including 61 convenience branches, and another 27 shops at Welcome Break locations. It combines the convenience of a supermarket with the expertise and service of a specialist shop - dedicated to offering quality food that has been responsibly sourced, combined with high standards of customer service. Waitrose & Partners is an employee-owned business - all employees are Partners and have a say in how the business is run.

Waitrose & Partners exports products to more than 50 countries worldwide and has nine shops which operate under licence in the Middle East. The retailer's omnichannel business includes the online grocery service,, as well as specialist online shops including for wine and for plants and flowers.   

About the Leckford Estate

The Leckford Estate is a 4,000 acre estate near Stockbridge, Hampshire.  It was purchased in 1929 by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership, and Waitrose & Partners have been farming on the land continuously for nearly 90 years.  As the Waitrose & Partners Farm it is the only UK food retailer owned farming estate, with produce from the estate directly supplied to Waitrose stores across the country. The estate is diverse and commercial businesses include property, food production, farming, retail and leisure activities.

About Small Robot Company

Small Robot Company is working to maximise food production while reducing its cost on the environment. We are a group of farmers, engineers, scientists and service designers with a deep knowledge farming, robotics, AI and service design. We are dedicated to building technology that will make farming profitable, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. We are building a farming service designed by farmers for farmers that uses robotics and AI to deliver this dream. Our technology builds on 15 years’ research by Professor Simon Blackmore, the world’s leading expert in precision farming at Harper Adams university. Our three small robots Tom Dick and Harry will seed, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.

About Method

Method is a strategic design consultancy. We are a relentlessly curious group of thinkers, designers, innovators and entrepreneurs. We create brands, products and services that power the businesses of tomorrow. We ask the hard questions to create practical, people-centred solutions. We use design thinking and making to navigate the complexities of the digital age. We strive to create a better tomorrow for businesses, people and planet. We work with many of the worlds most impactful businesses from Google to McDonald’s, The Economist to Walgreens Boots Alliance. Method is the strategic design arm of GlobalLogic, Inc., a Silicon Valley based design and technology services company. For more information visit -

About ZOA Robotics

ZOA Robotics is a London based startup developing high performance robots that are commercially affordable and intuitive to deploy, backed by leading investors in robotics and AI. In industrial sites such as refineries and power stations ZOA’s robot ‘Zeta’ will provide plant managers total visibility on the condition and integrity of the site by carrying out 24/7 routine inspections in dangerous or hazardous conditions. The Zeta quadruped is a ground breaking robot combining high performance and remarkably low cost, enabling deployment in a range of applications in and beyond industrial sites. For more information visit or email 


John Lewis Partnership

Sarah Henderson 
Partner & Senior External Communications Manager
tel: 07764 676036

Waitrose & Partners

Matt Clemens 
Partner & Communications Manager, Corporate
tel: 01344 826747