Autonomous quadcopters, or drones, are poised to become ubiquitous.
Already, drones are in use for research and applications in construction and maintenance, military and emergency operations, space exploration, logistics, accessibility, smart homes, sports and exercise, and human-computer interfaces.
In the majority of current drone applications, a human pilot uses a drone to remotely inspect or manipulate subjects in an environment that is not easily accessible for humans. Conversely, there is an emerging class of applications where fully autonomous drones operate in spaces populated by human users or bystanders. We have coined the term social drones to describe these.
The concept of social drones spans two scales of analysis - personal and societal - that underpin the motivation for our research:
In the same way that some form of social response is unavoidable when two or more living beings (e.g. a human and a cat) occupy the same environment, we argue that an autonomous embodied agent that co-habits the same space as us cannot be disregarded - it will invoke a visceral, cognitive, and/or behavioral response. Thus, cultural and psychological human factors are significant for the design of the aesthetics and behavior of social drones.
There are many machines and technologies that 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 societal phenomena. We expect drones to become similarly ubiquitous in our societies soon. A sophisticated understanding of how drones interact with the societal order will be key to useful commercial products, and to the deft handling of drone-related phenomena in the public sphere.
Our vision: We wish to generate knowledge and designs that inform the development of social drones.
This is a research area with great potential impact, for four reasons:
The usefulness of current drones in specific work and leisure contexts is indisputable, yet they come with significant drawbacks that can affect both users and bystanders. Conquering these drawbacks will serve existing stakeholders and enable novel use cases.
Drones are already popular, and capable of harming and disrupting human life. It is inevitable that societal practices, law, policy, and education will evolve to cover them, and it will serve societies to undertake these efforts in an informed manner.
Knowledge on interactions with autonomous drones can inform designs for piloted drones too.
We expect social drones to become ubiquitous in the future. If this expectation comes true, the scale of its consequences justifies research on the topic.
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 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2019).
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).
Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Mohammad Obaid, Joseph La Delfa, Asım Evren Yantaç and Morten Fjeld (2019). Integrated Apparatus for Empirical Studies with Embodied Autonomous Social Drones. In Proceedings of the International workshop on Human-Drone Interaction (iHDI).