March 30 – April 4 , 2014, Dagstuhl Seminar 14142

Spatial reference in the Semantic Web and in Robotics


Aldo Gangemi (CNR – Rome, IT)
Verena V. Hafner (HU Berlin, DE)
Werner Kuhn (University of California – Santa Barbara, US)
Luc Steels (Free University of Brussels, BE)


Simon Scheider (Universität Münster, DE)

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Places ("downtown"), spatial objects ("highway 1") and localized events ("hurricane Katrina"), are commonly referred to in the Semantic Web. They serve to search for and link to information across domains. Spatial reference systems, such as WGS84, allow for representing such references as points or regions. This makes them amenable not only for mapping, but also for powerful location-based querying, navigation support and computing.

Spatial references are also fundamental in embodied cognition and robotics. Egocentric and allocentric spatial reference frames underlie robot learning and interaction. Decades of research in cognitive robotics highlight the role of social interaction, joint attention, language games, and visual discrimination games in establishing referents for symbols. The most well-known experiment is that of the Talking Heads. Spatial relations, such as right, front, left, behind, serve to name and identify other objects in a self-organizing vocabulary. Affordance-based cognition is a source of spatial reference in robots as well as in humans. However, so far, this research is only loosely connected to information science and the Semantic Web.

Existing options to localize information in the Semantic Web and in Robotics through coordinate systems cover only limited cases of spatial reference. Humans localize referents in space in many ways, based on different tasks and spatial competencies. For example, the location of a workplace may be linked to people, tasks, and infrastructures. It can be specified in terms of a coordinate system or, alternatively, in terms of containment, connectedness and accessibility in a building; yet another option is to specify it by the possibility to perform certain activities, such as sitting or reading and writing at the workplace.

The seminar

This Dagstuhl Seminar brought together leading international researchers from the Semantic Web, Spatial Cognition, Geo-informatics and Cognitive Robotics to work on the application, synthesis, formal construction, extension, and use of spatial reference systems, identifying challenges and research opportunities. The seminar gathered 27 researchers, 9 from Spatial Cognition and reasoning, 6 from Geo-informatics, 7 from Cognitive Robotics, and 5 from the Semantic Web.

Seminar participants identified a number of concrete links between these communities that are being exploited for future research and development. For example, spatial reference systems of robots and corresponding cognitive spatial concepts can be used in order to describe resources accessible in the world, and Semantic Web technology to publish those descriptions for information access. Locations can be described in ways which are more closely related to humans, based on qualitative relations and environmental referents, and for environments which are difficult to localize by a GPS. In this way, it becomes possible to share location descriptions among humans and robots and thus to localize resources of interest (e.g. rooms, people, places) published in the Web of data. Vice versa, spatial referents and descriptions in the Semantic Web may guide robots towards accessible things in the world. Robots may function as embodied surrogates of human observers exchanging information on the Web of Data encoded in terms of their own reference systems.

Summary text license
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 Unported license
  Aldo Gangemi and Verena V. Hafner and Werner Kuhn and Simon Scheider and Luc Steels


  • Artificial Intelligence / Robotics
  • Semantics / Formal Methods
  • Society / Human-computer Interaction


  • Spatial reference systems
  • Semantic Web
  • Robotics
  • Embodiment
  • Spatial cognition


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