Jan 2, 2020

Emergo by UL recently sent experts from their Human Factors Research & Design (HFR&D) team to the inaugural Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum in Santa Clara, California. Research Director Merrick Kossack and Senior Human Factors Specialists Alix Dorfman and Tricia Gibo shared their insights applying human factors engineering (HFE) to the design and development of healthcare robotics. The forum, which took place from December 9-10, brought together engineers, manufacturers, researchers, investors, and business and technology analysts for insights on this emerging market segment.

In their presentation, “Human Factors Considerations for Healthcare Robotics,” the team offered a definition of HFE and identified four key HFE design aspects that should be considered early in the design process:

  • User interface (UI) components
  • User groups
  • Use environments
  • User tasks

The HFR&D team explained these design aspects using examples such as rehabilitation exoskeletons, robotic-assisted surgical systems, and image-guided vascular robots. Early application of HFE to design requires manufacturers to consider intended users, operating environments, and intended use, and is critical to properly manage use-related risk.

The talk provided an explanation for how experienced human factors engineers identify use-related risks, develop mitigations, and validate design. The presenters discussed key elements of the HFE toolkit including field observations, expert reviews, task analyses, and usability tests. They also looked at challenges facing designers in the healthcare robotics sphere and how the regulatory environment impacts the mission to create devices that can be used safely and effectively.

Robotics is becoming an increasingly central focus of the medical device market. Such robotics, however, does not equate to “automation,” and designing for user interaction is pivotal. There is still a need to take user populations and use environments into account. The Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum is a welcome addition to medical discourse, and similar gatherings are likely to be established in coming years. It is the mission of Emergo by UL’s Human Factors Research & Design team to make sure that user-centered design is part of this conversation and that designers recognize both the benefits and risks that especially pertain to robotics.


  • Timothy Herr