Delft Haptics Lab

Delft University of Technology

prof. dr. ir. David Abbink

Full Professor at the Department of Cognitive Robotics, Faculty 3mE, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.

I am a professor in Haptic Human-Robot Interaction at TU Delft: for half of my time in the Human-Robot Interaction group of the Cognitive Robotics Department at Mechanical Engineering, and since November 2023 at Industrial Design Engineering for the other half of my time.

My disciplinary trackrecord I was trained as a mechanical engineer and specialized in biomechanics engineering. My disciplinary research interest is the understanding of adaptations in human behavior when interacting with vehicles or tools, especially when these have some level of autonomy (i.e., become robotic systems). Since starting my PhD in 2002 I learned much about designing and evaluating human-robot interaction, founded the Delft Haptics Lab and published over a hundred scientific articles on human-robot interaction, haptics, shared control, tele-operation, design and evaluation of driver support systems, modeling of drivers and pilots, sensorimotor control, system identification, and much more. I work with a diverse group of inspiring scientists and students, on theories and models of human adaptation, on design of human-automation interaction and robotic interaction devices, and on human-in-the-loop experiments in labs or in the real world when possible. My research programmes have receiving funding by industry (Nissan, Boeing, Renault), by RVO (Brightsky project 2022-2026), and by the Dutch Science Foundation NWO through personal grants (VENI 2010-2014, VIDI 2015-2019) and a “Perspectief” grant (H-Haptics, 2011-2017). An accessible overview of my disciplinary research approach and vision can be viewed in my inaugural address as full professor in 2019.

Human-Robot Interaction group In 2017, I co-founded the Cognitive Robotics Department, in which I established the Human-Robot Interaction group. During my leadership the HRI group grew from 1 to 8 staff in five years, after which Laura Marchal-Crespo took over the leadership in Oct 2022. 

Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research Since 2020, together with fieldlab RoboHouse, I have been laying the foundations for the new transdisciplinary research and innovation centre FRAIM. This centre aims to responsibly shape a meaningful, just and viable future of work, with and for the people on the workfloor. We currently focus on physical work (like nursing, baggage handling and repair & maintenance), and exploring emerging robotic capabilities as one of the technologies that can contribute to innovations. I lead a Dutch academic consortium of 35 scientists from five different universities, pioneering the concept of worker-robot relations as an academic focus. Together with innovators from RoboHouse we engage in transdisciplinary research and innovation, partnering with organizations that face mounting challenges in the future of work, like Erasmus Medical Centre for nursing work, Schiphol and KLM for baggage handling work, and KLM Engine Repair Services for maintenance work. We typically start with sector pilots of 6 months, to then scale up to long-term partnerships (5-10 years). We recently received funding from the ministry of Economic Affairs (EZK) to help strengthen the core team towards this purpose, and are in the process of applying our approach to help SME’s in construction and metal industry, together with Bouwend Nederland and Metaalunie.

In 2021 I have also become scientific director of TU Delft’s interdisciplinary research initiative AiTech (read an interview here). I am currently leading our community into a centre for meaningful human control – together with the launch of a Handbook on Meaningful Human Control which I co-edited.

Education Teaching is something I very much enjoy, and students seem to enjoy this as well: they’ve voted me as best teacher of the BioMechanical Engineering department for seven consecutive years. I was selected best teacher of the faculty in 2013 and 2014. My course The Human Controller received an international award for outstanding Open CourseWare. With the HRI group we contributed to the launch of the Master Programme in  Robotics at TU Delft in 2020, new courses in Human-Robot Interaction, Control for Human-Robot Interaction, Applied Experimental Methods for Human Factors and Vision & Reflection. Currently I’m committed to bridging education and design and engineering, and in interdisciplinary (JIP project) and transdisciplinary education (guest lectures so far). In total I have supervised over 110 MSc students and 11 PhD students towards their graduation.

Outreach I also enjoy outreach and presenting to different audiences about how humans and technology interact: at internationally renowned venues like The Royal Institution, and also at Dutch venues like Lowlands FestivalGala van de Wetenschap, Universiteit van Nederland, or at theatre performances. I am regularly interviewed on national TV (e.g., “Nieuwsuur”,  “Witteman Ontdekt“, “De Volmaakte Mens“, and “Kennis van Nu“) and by major newspapers (e.g., NRC, Volkskrant, Trouw) or other media (Vrij Nederland, Financieel Dagblad, Nemo KennisLink, KIJK). I think it is important to engage directly in societal debates (e.g. through Studium Generale) or policy makers (e.g., at Dutch Binnenhof Colleges, at EU conferences or information events, or at USA workshops). Finally, I engage with children around robotics and even contributed for a year to a photo-comic for Zo Zit Dat. For commercial presentations I am represented by Bukman Management.

I have always worked 4 days a week, to ensure time for the other pleasures in life. Apart from being a scientist, I have a not-so-secret alter ego as a drummer. In the period of 1999-2014 I’ve recorded four albums, twelve video clips and have played over 400 shows in three different continents. Other things I love to do include traveling, philosophy, mythology, cooking, art in many of its forms and – since 2017 – being a dad.

Google Scholar

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Grants & Funding
  • 2002-2015 Continuous funding through Nissan Motor Company
  • 2007-2011 Funding through Boeing Company
  • 2018-2021 Funding through Renault
  • 2019-2021 Funding for AiTech through Board of Directors
  • 2020-2023 Funding through Nissan Motor Company
  • 2023 FRAIM pilot at Erasmus MC (6 months)
  • 2023 FRAIM pilot at Schiphol (6 months)
  • 2024 FRAIM project at Erasmus MC (2 years)
  • 2024 FRAIM support by ministry of EZK
Awards for Research
Awards for Education
  • 2011 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2012 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2013 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2013 – best teacher of Faculty 3mE (see movie)
  • 2014 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2014 – best teacher of Faculty 3mE (see movie)
  • 2015 – “Outstanding Course” for The Human Controller
  • 2015 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2016 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
  • 2017 – best teacher of Department of BioMechanical Engineering
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