Towards Human–Robot Teaming: Tradeoffs of Explanation-Based Communication Strategies in a Virtual Search and Rescue Task

Erin K. Chiou, Mustafa Demir, Verica Buchanan, Christopher C. Corral, Mica R. Endsley, Glenn J. Lematta, Nancy J. Cooke, Nathan J. McNeese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Autonomous robots have the potential to play a critical role in urban search and rescue (USAR) by allowing human counterparts of a response team to remain in remote, stable locations while the robots execute more dangerous work in the field. However, challenges remain in developing robot capabilities suitable for teaming with humans. Communicating effectively is one of these challenges, especially if plan deviations during field operations require robot explanation. A virtual USAR team task experiment was conducted in Minecraft with a confederate acting as the remote robot. Four explanation-based communication conditions were tested: (1) always explain–the robot automatically provided explanations for any off-plan behaviors, (2) explain if asked–the robot provided an explanation only when the human counterpart requests it, (3) pull prime–the same as (2) but participants also experienced implicit training to pull information from the robot, and (4) never explain–a baseline condition in which the robot acknowledged requests but would not provide an explanation. Results indicate that the training in (3) generated more team communication than (1), but this did not improve teamperformance or shared situation awareness. Rather, team performance and shared situation awareness was best supported by a moderate level of explanations and the robot pushing information. These findings reinforce the importance of designing robot communication strategies that can reduce human workload, particularly communication overhead, in dynamic and time-constrained tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1117-1136
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Social Robotics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Communication
  • Complex environment
  • Explanation
  • Human–robot team
  • Search and rescue
  • Situation awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science(all)
  • Social Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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