Close up of a flying drone
​A drone that keeps a distance you are comfortable with.
​Photo: Unsplash

An intelligent and social drone

​Have you ever met a polite drone? In the project "AI + Social Drones: Towards Autonomous and Adaptive Social Drones" Associate Professor Mohammad Obaid and colleagues will investigate how flying drones can interact with humans using AI.
​Drones are becoming more and more useful as tools in areas like transportation and health.
In the project AI + Social Drones: Towards Autonomous and Adaptive Social Drones, funded by Chalmers AI Research Centre, CHAIR, the research team will look into social drones and their role in society. Starting this summer, the project will investigate how drones can operate in a human environment in an acceptable way.

“If we have an AI entity in our environment, in this case a flying robot, how do we interact with it as humans? We want to teach it to understand us and to pick up our social cues while flying next to us. Also, how should we as humans interact with it and behave?” says Associate Professor Mohammad Obaid, project leader.

What is a social drone?
A drone is a flying robot that can be controlled remotely, and when we throw in the word social next to a drone, two things happen. One is that they can exhibit social cues to us. They can tell us how they are behaving and their intentions. Secondly, is to make it learn how to pick up our behavior, our social cues.

“The idea is that if we, in this project, learn how to make this work, we will have a better understanding of how to accept and trust them in different application areas and contexts, which will make them more usable”, says Mohammad Obaid.  

To make this happen, AI is needed. Data from interaction activities are collected and used to train the robot to develop social cues. An intelligent drone may be able to read from the user’s face if it is welcoming or anxious and then choose a suitable distance to the person.

Drones are already used in delivery services and civil services, like healthcare and well-being.

“Health is something we are looking in to as well. With AI applied in the drone, we believe that drones could do much good, for instance in emergency situations in remote areas.

Communicating with a robot
We are used to see robots in sci-fi where they have faces and can communicate what they think and their intentions, and many scientists get inspired by it. Mohammad Obaid is one of them.

“In earlier research we have tested to add eyes to a drone. The eyes let the drone gaze to the direction it intends to go and thereby communicate its intentions”, he says.

Many tests are being done with ground robots, which cannot fly. Applying the research on a drone is similar but the ability to fly gives the robot a new dimension.

“A drone can give you a new perspective from above for example, and it will be much more mobile than ground robots, not getting stuck on obstacles”, says Mohammad Obaid.

A drone companion
It may seem tempting to imagine that the social drone will be as common as the smartphone in a near future. But there are many issues to resolve before this becomes reality, Mohammad Obaid thinks.

“It could well be that people will have a drone companion, but we need to think about ethics first. As with cell phones, we need to know what will happen with society when adding social drones, as with all human interaction with AI systems. I think more important is if the drone can be of use in health and well-being, like if they can be used to help people for instance in remote areas or as lifeguards on the beach”, he says.

Text: Mats Tiborn

Page manager Published: Fri 10 Jun 2022.