Making Smart Tools Work For Everyone

How can workers, organizations, and society benefit from advances in artificial intelligence (AI)? AI can be designed to automate tasks, taking human workers out of the equation, or to augment the capabilities of human workers. Choosing the former risks further driving us into being a society of haves and have-nots, where humans are devalued and technologies reign supreme. Choosing the latter can empower workers not only to improve their work, but also, to live safer, more productive, and more fulfilling lives. The goal of this six-year grand challenge within a grand challenge is to develop socio-technical approaches to use AI to benefit human workers, through the development of smart tools. 

Tools are fundamental to our humanity and to our work. Tools are handheld physical implements that we use to change our environment. Our goal is to develop a novel smart tool concept that has embedded AI, sensing, and actuation that learns from workers. It also will support training to provide equitable access to jobs and to improve workers' safety and quality of life. 

To accomplish this goal, we will collaborate with workers and other stakeholders to identify a work context for developing and deploying smart tools through participatory design. We will apply user-centered design to create a smart tool design framework. We will consider the technology policy implications of smart tools, as well as their broader social policy implications. We will work with our partners to deploy prototypes of a smart tool in their workplaces, and iteratively evaluate and refine the smart tool based on the requirements of the work context and tensions between the values of workers and other stakeholders (e.g., employers). Through our design and deployment process, the smart tools developed in this project will empower workers and contribute to developing a more inclusive workplace. The smart tools developed in this project will serve as a proofs-of-concept for our broader design framework for co-constructing smart tools with workers. The framework will be of intellectual merit to our scholarly communities and will have broader impacts through the ability to potentially transform workers’ opportunities, job satisfaction, and quality of life. 


This project is supported by funding from Microsoft. 

Smart tool system

Smart Tool System

We envision smart hand tool systems that will support workers in critical manual tasks.

Team Members
Raul Longoria
J. Mike Walker Mechanical Engineering
Jose Bendana
Mechanical Engineering
Sandeep Chinchali
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Jose del R. Millán
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ashish Deshpande
J. Mike Walker Mechanical Engineering
Kathy Hill
School of Information
Ricardo Palacios
J. Mike Walker Mechanical Engineering
Pablo Pejlatowicz
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
Elena Soto Handal
Mechanical Engineering
Stephen Slota
School of Information
Rachel Tunis
School of Information
Charles Purma III
City of Austin Innovation Office