Social Drones

This project is funded by the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program – Humanities and Society (2020–2024)

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Autonomous drones are on the cusp of becoming ubiquitous in and around our built environments. They are already used widely in contexts including construction, planning, energy, geology, archaeology, military and law enforcement, search and rescue, logistics, forestry, photography and filmmaking, and real estate.

Most current drone applications involve a pilot using a drone to remotely view or manipulate things in destinations that are not easily accessible for humans. Conversely, there are emerging applications where fully autonomous drones operate in spaces populated by human users or bystanders. We coined the term “social drones” to describe these applications.

Social drones and “human-drone interaction” (HDI) are growing topics within human-computer interaction (HCI) and human-robot interaction (HRI) research communities. Situated here, we conduct design research on interactive autonomous drones.

Our work develops human-centered knowledge and design experiments around social drones. The foundation of our methodology is “research through design”, where we undertake design experiments as follows:

  1. We build prototypes for social drones and related systems (e.g. information and interaction), informed by previous research. Our designs are sometimes pragmatic and task-oriented; but more often, they are speculative and playful.
  2. We conduct human-centered empirical design studies to characterize experiences around these inventions.
  3. We analyze and theorize over the results to extract coherent frameworks that can inform future products, services, policy, and research.
  4. We publish our findings, as well as open source software, tools, documentation, and other contributions to support future work.

This work is broadly consequential, for four reasons:

  1. The usefulness of current drones in specific work and leisure contexts is indisputable, yet they come with significant usability and user experience limitations for both users and bystanders. Research and experiments to conquer these will serve existing stakeholders and enable novel use cases.
  2. Drones are already popular, and already capable of harming and disrupting our lives if things go wrong. Social constructs (etiquette, law, policy, education…) are already evolving to cover them, and we would like to support this evolution with research and knowledge.
  3. Knowledge on interactions with autonomous drones can inform designs for piloted drones, which are widely used for commercial applications. For example, assistive features like autonomous obstacle avoidance must be designed by foregrounding human factors related to both pilots and bystanders.
  4. We expect social drones to become ubiquitous in our built environments, in which case the scale of consequences justifies investing in research.

Many machines and technologies – operating with various levels of autonomy and “intelligence” – are already embedded in the fabric of our societies, and a variety of social patterns (norms, conventions, expectations, etiquette…) accompany them. The busses and automobiles on our streets, the computers on our desks at work, and the tools in our kitchens mediate and influence interpersonal relations and social phenomena. We expect drones to become similarly ubiquitous. A sophisticated understanding of how drones interact with human factors and social order will be key to useful product designs, and to the deft handling of drone-related phenomena in the public sphere.

Credits

Mafalda Samuelsson-Gamboa
Ziming Wang

Morten Fjeld
Sara Ljungblad
Yemao Man
Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller
Mohammad Obaid

Bitcraze AB
Chalmers University of Technology
Monash University
University of Gothenburg
Qualisys AB
Visual Arena Lindholmen

Publications

Sara Ljungblad, Yemao Man, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Mafalda Samuelsson-Gamboa, Mohammad Obaid, & Morten Fjeld (2021). What Matters in Professional Drone Pilots’ Practice? An Interview Study to Understand the Complexity of Their Work and Inform Human-Drone Interaction Research. In Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21). [PDF]

Mafalda Gamboa, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş and Sara Ljungblad (2021). Wisp: a Design Case for Temporality in Research through Design in Human-Robot Companionship. Paper for the HRI ‘21 Workshop Research Through Design Approaches in Human-Robot Interaction (RTDxHRI). [PDF]

Joseph La Delfa, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Nick Huppert, & Ian Peake, Leah Heiss (2020). Using Pose Estimation for Cultivating Subtleties in Human-Drone Interaction. Paper for the NordiCHI ‘20 workshop Programming for Moving Bodies. [PDF]

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Markus Funk, Sara Ljungblad, Jérémie Garcia, Joseph La Delfa, & Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller (eds.) (2020). Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Workshop on Human-Drone Interaction. [Proceedings]

Joseph La Delfa, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Emma Luke, Ben Koder, & Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller (2020). Designing Drone Chi: Unpacking the Thinking and Making of Somaesthetic Human-Drone Interaction. In Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ‘20). [PDF]

Joseph La Delfa, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Rakesh Patibanda, Hazel Ngari, Rohit Ashok Khot, & Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller (2020). Drone Chi: Somaesthetic Human-Drone Interaction. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’20). [Honourable Mention Award]

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Markus Funk, Sara Ljungblad, Jérémie Garcia, Joseph La Delfa, & Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller (2020). iHDI 2020: Interdisciplinary Workshop on Human-Drone Interaction. In Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ‘20). [PDF]

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Sara Ljungblad, Joseph La Delfa, & Morten Fjeld (2020). Agent Archetypes for Human-Drone Interaction: Social Robots or Objects with Intent?. In Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Workshop on Human-Drone Interaction (iHDI 2020). [PDF]

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Damla Çay, Yuchong Zhang, Mohammad Obaid, Asım Evren Yantaç, & Morten Fjeld (2019). The Design of Social Drones: A Review of Studies on Autonomous Flyers in Inhabited Environments. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19). [PDF]

Joseph La Delfa, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Olivia Wichtowski, Rohit Ashok Khot, & Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller (2019). Are Drones Meditative?. In Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ‘19). [PDF]

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Mohammad Obaid, Joseph La Delfa, Asım Evren Yantaç, & Morten Fjeld (2019). Integrated Apparatus for Empirical Studies with Embodied Autonomous Social Drones. In Proceedings of the International Workshop on Human-Drone Interaction (iHDI). [PDF]