Exploring proxemics for Human-Drone Interaction

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The development of drone-based technology and solutions has witnessed an increase over the past few years. The impact of drone technology can be seen in areas such as defense, disaster control, entertainment, product delivery, agriculture, photography, weather forecasting and many more. According to the World Intellectual Property Office, the patent filings for drone technology in 2016-2017 witnessed a new high of 5,301 IP assets, way above 1,242 IP asset filings in the previous year. Further, according to a report by Research and Markets, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is projected to grow from USD 20.71 billion in 2018 to USD 52.30 billion in 2025, at a CAGR of 14.15%.

The application and acceptability of drones is expected to enhance with an increased interaction between people and the UAVs.  There is much research in this space, with a growing number of patents being filed in the domain of human-UAV communication. The drones use techniques such as gestures, voice and gaze recognition to understand the intent and feelings of a person and react accordingly. The patent by IBM describes a human-drone interaction method to cater to the mood and emotions of a person. The patent US10040551B2 describes a drone that delivers coffee to an individual based on a cognitive state. The drone flies to an area where people are present and scans them using its sensors to identify an individual that may have a predetermined cognitive state. The cognitive characteristics include an individual’s calendar or routine, medical history, sleep cycle, and facial expressions. The drone uses image data to identify if the user seems tired and may benefit from a caffeinated drink. Moreover, the drone also responds to gestures of a person to deliver coffee. These gestures may include a nod or hand wave, particularly if the user is looking at the drone.

Figure 1: The figure from patent US10040551B2 illustrates a drone performing facial and gesture recognition to identify if a user needs a caffeinated drink

Amazon’s patent US9921579B1 elaborates a human communicating with an unmanned aerial vehicle using gestures to help it deliver a package. The sensors of the vehicle receive gestures and compare them to those in a database of human gestures. The vehicle performs actions based on the determined result from the database. For instance, when a human makes a shoo-away gesture to a drone, the UAV will change direction and move away. If a human waves and calls to a drone, it will interpret the gesture as a signal to land and deliver a package. The vehicle also interprets audible signals given by humans such as verbal statements, requests or questions. The unmanned vehicle may also support two-way communication with humans.

Figure 2: The figure from patent US9921579B1 shows an environment where human interaction with unmanned aerial vehicles is taking place

Another patent US9471059B1 by Amazon describes one or more UAVs that act as an assistant to a user. For example, a UAV may be used to record information, identify dangerous situations, or locate/retrieve items for the user, etc. It can input voice commands from the user such as “find my car” or “find the dog”. The UAV can give an output such as “Dog /car located” and display the location or give out a command saying “follow me” in response to the task allocated. Another such patent US9747901B1 describes a UAV  used to deliver products. It can detect the presence of interactive objects such as people or animals. The vehicle produces a speech output to instruct or warn the object and capture any input information from the interacting object. The UAV may also have a two-way communication with a person in order to request information and/or answer questions from the object.

Google is another company, which is actively patenting in the drone technology domain. The patent US9783295B2 describes a UAV that performs payload delivery and communicates with bystanders on the way to the delivery location. The unmanned vehicle generates avoidance cue to alert the bystanders of its arrival and payload delivery.

Figure 3: The figure from US9783295B2 illustrates an unmanned aerial vehicle generating an avoidance cue for perception by a bystander

Samsung’s patent US9891885B2 describes a flying display device that moves along with a user and responds to a user’s gesture. The display device changes its angle based on the gaze of the user via automatic tracking. The device also responds to a user’s voice commands.

The various patent filings observed in this domain depict that a number of companies are working in the domain of drone technology and enabling human-drone interaction in order to understand the intent of humans and respond accordingly. It also ensures safety of humans during drone activities. This does open doors to a more safer use of drones in the coming years.


(Featured image is for representative purpose only and has been sourced from https://www.maxpixel.net/People-Drone-Nature-Willy-Mountains-Hand-Desktop-3415931)

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