22:00 - 23:00
Interacting with Social Drones

Short thesis

The graduate project from Imperial College and the Royal College of Art explores the challenges of communication and social interaction with drones. It illustrates several ideas for drone programming, covering gesture control, emotion recognition and coding intent.


More than 770,000 U.S. drone registrations have been filed in about 15 months and over 100,000 drones have been registered in April 2017 alone. A big challenge caused by this increase, is the need for public acceptance and autonomy of drone operation in complex and messy environments, specifically in direct engagement with humans. Unlike pixels on a screen, drones are physical objects that occupy the same space as humans and can interact with us through lighting, motion, sound, or physical contact. What if drones could have a contextual understanding and react to human behaviors? Can they display intent and social behavior?

To answer those questions, the video footage from a Parrot AR drone was processed and 5 basic facial human expressions, namely joy, anger, surprise, sadness, and fear were detected. Based on the result, several drone choreographies were then coded. Instead of anthropomorphism, the drone communicates with what it’s got–movement that is, it's position, direction compared to the user, speed, rotation, angles, altitude as well as it's reaction time and compliance to commands.

For example, when someone is afraid, the drone slows and drops low to the ground, it makes no fast movements and backs off. When someone is surprised, the drone approaches them almost slowly investigating, backing off, and then approaching again. Those interactions were inspired from cybernetics (Braitenberg vehicles), Dance (Labanotation system), animation principles, human-robot interaction as well as by the interaction between falconers and their birds of prey. Emergent use cases could include animation of flying characters, flying lighting displays, the creation of flying robot actors and synthetic swarms, or in public settings where the drones are (co) operating autonomously with humans.

In a world in which we’re surrounded by more and more drones, capable of buzzing our heads at 90 mph, humans need better options than rolling over and playing dead.  Can this be a new way to co-live harmoniously with our flying companions?