prof. dr. ir. David Abbink

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

My main research interest is the understanding of human behavior when physically interacting with vehicles or tools, especially when these have some level of (semi-)autonomy (i.e. become robotic systems). In the past 20 years I learned a lot about designing and evaluating human-robot interaction, 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. An easy-acces overview of my research approach and vision can be viewed in my inaugural address as full professor in 2019.
Since that time, together with Jaimy Siebel from RoboHouse, I have been laying the foundations for the new transdisciplinary research centre FRAIM. This centre aims to responsibly shape worker-robot relations, so that meaningful and more productive work can emerge. I have also become scientific director of the interdisciplinary programme AiTech.

In my role of professor in Haptic Human-Robot Interaction, I currently represent the Human-Robot Interaction group in the Cognitive Robotics DepartmentThis group aims to ensure that humans and robots can understand each other’s behavior in order to move and act together in the same space. The group studies the fundamentals of human control and cooperation with robot systems, and engineers interface prototypes by exploring different interaction design principles and experimentally testing them in human-in-the-loop studies, ranging from simulator studies to real-world tests. The group addresses two main research areas: (i) cognitive HRI based on gaze, gestures, and body/vehicle motions (De Winter, Zgonnikov, IJsma); and (ii) physical HRI, based on shared control (Abbink), human-robot collaboration (Peternel), tactile haptics (Vardar) and surface haptics (Wiertlewski). Practical applications can be found in the automotive domain, but also in production robots, remote controlled robots, and soft robotics. In my team we build our own robotic interaction devices, develop prototype interfaces in driving or flight simulators and evaluate that in human-in-the-loop experiments, and sometimes test our prototypes in the real world. For my research I have the pleasure of working with a diverse group of inspiring scientists and students, on a number of research programmes funded by Nissan, Boeing, Renault and the Dutch Science Foundation NWO. Also, I’ve received two highly competitive personal grants: the VENI grant (2010) and the VIDI grant (2015).

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, and my course The Human Controller received an international award for outstanding Open CourseWare. I’ve  also contributed to the launch of the MSc Robotics at TU Delft, and have supervised over 100 MSc students towards their graduation.

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 Gala van de Wetenschap, Universiteit van Nederland, or  theatre performances. I have contributed for a year to a photo-comic for children, am regularly interviewed on national TV programs (e.g., “Nieuwsuur”,  “Witteman Ontdekt“, “De Volmaakte Mens“, and “Kennis van Nu“) and in major newspapers (e.g., NRC, Volkskrant, Trouw), or other media (Vrij Nederland, Financieel Dagblad, New Scientist, KIJK). For commercial presentations and media appearances I’m 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.

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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
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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