Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a relatively new technology that uses small computer programs called bots to mimic the manual path taken by a human through a range of computer applications when performing certain tasks in a business process. The sequence of tasks that is being mimicked by bots, referred to as a 'bot-flow', typically comprises various computer-human interactions (such as mouse clicks and keyboard strokes) that need to be executed in a particular order to accomplish the tasks.
Before a bot can be executed, a design (or blueprint) of a bot-flow is needed that describes what activities a bot will perform at runtime, and in what sequence. Such designs are largely obtained through manual efforts by observing and mapping human actions into some process models. However, the design is often constrained due to limited observation time windows, and so may not be comprehensive. One consequence of this is that particular occurrences at runtime that were not included in the process design, such as missing or invalid data or changes to GUI layouts, are not correctly handled, resulting in flow failures. These occurrences are referred to as exceptions, and are described as any event that is deemed to be outside the pre-defined behaviour for a bot-flow.
To achieve robust bot execution, a suite of rich runtime exception handling strategies is needed to ensure that exceptions that occur during the execution of bot-flows are handled gracefully. These strategies should, as far as possible, provide for the detection and mitigation of exceptions so that a bot can continue its flow unimpeded, and without the need for human intervention.
Research activities in this project vary, depending on students’ skills and the duration of the project. In general, research activities for this project include:
- A literature review on the state-of-the-art techniques for handling RPA runtime exceptions (VRES)
- An investigation of the applicability of various exception handling techniques from areas such as software engineering and business process automation to RPA exception handling (VRES, Honours)
- The development of new exception handling techniques for RPA (Masters, PhD)
- The development, implementation, and evaluation of algorithms, strategies and programs that will provide bots with the capabilities to intelligently handle exceptions through methods such as active learning, runtime monitoring, and timely intervention (PhD)
The expected project outcomes are dependent on the scope of the project that students’ undertake. Key outcomes include:
- Gap analysis in the domain of RPA exception handling
- Evaluation of the suitability of existing exception handling techniques from other domains to the problem area of intelligent and automated RPA exception handling
- New techniques, strategies and programs for automated, intelligent RPA exception handling
Skills and experience
- Familiarity with the fields of process automation, software engineering and general exception handling techniques
- Strong problem-solving skills and the ability to think logically
- Sound writing skills
- Programming skills
Contact the supervisor for more information.