Human-drone Interaction Design

Working at Blue Jay Eindhoven, I had the opportunity to develop a new kind of drone. A drone equipped to fly indoors autonomously and assist with the wellbeing of people. As the Lead Interaction Engineer of the team, we were challenged to design a prototype that not only was safe to interact with, but that also embodied social behavior and trustworthiness. Since drones are generally seen under a negative light, our goal was to change that perception with this year-long project.

In the  top , eye-gazing behavior concentrated in the road ahead suggests higher level of trust; while the  bottom  image suggest lower level of trust as driver monitors more often the dashboard, side mirror, and GPS.  Source:  Gold, Körber, Hohenberger, Lechner, & Bengler (2015)

| Background

Blue Jay Eindhoven is a student-led startup that works under the roof of Eindhoven University of Technology. It was founded in 2015 and each year a new team of students is chosen to further the development of the company. I was part of the 3rd edition, in which we accomplished major improvements in the efficiency, usability, autonomous flight, and interactive features of the drone.

Drone prototypes from previous Blue Jay Eindhoven teams.   Left to right:  Concept model 2015; 2015/16 drone; and 2016/17 drone.

Drone prototypes from previous Blue Jay Eindhoven teams.

Left to right: Concept model 2015; 2015/16 drone; and 2016/17 drone.


| Design Highlights

In addition to leading UX research efforts for the company (click here to see project), I was also responsible for designing and implementing the aesthetic and interactive elements of the drone, all of which were developed in tandem with the Mechanics and Software teams.

Particularly, I designed the 3D model of the drone’s outer frame, helped select effective materials for its construction, and ensured the interactive elements (lights and eyes) were compatible with the electronics and software architectures. I also programmed the eye animations and oversaw the development of the ring of lights to provide feedback about the drone’s status.


| Research Behind Design

One of the main roles I had was advocating for the intended users of the drone when it came to shaping the technology. This meant backing up our interaction design decisions with research in applied psychology and user insights, as well as communicating the value of these to the team and ultimately to the business goals of the company.

For example, eyes and human-like behavior not only serve as a way to show the system’s intelligence, but they also help promote a natural interaction by, for instance, allowing the user to make eye contact with the drone when giving a command or when receiving its assistance. Thus, we laid out the benefits of having one touch-screen for the eyes and made sure to select hardware that allowed both our goals and the Mechanics team goals (e.g. reducing weight of drone) to be aligned.

For more details about the UX research behind Blue Jay go here.