The Digital Futures Drone Arena is a concrete as well as a conceptual platform where key players in the digital transformation and society join in a conversation about the role and impact of mobile robotics, autonomous systems, machine learning, and human-computer interaction. The platform takes the form of a novel aerial drone testbed, where drone competitions take place periodically to understand and explore the unfolding relationships between humans and drones. Aerial drones are used as an opportunity to create a foundation that lives past the end of this project, useful as a long-standing basis for testing technical advances and to study, design, and envision novel relationships between humans, robots, and their functioning principles.

Our Goals

We have three major goals:

  1. We build a novel aerial drone testbed specifically conceived for application-level functionality rather than low-level control mechanisms. The testbed is designed to stay past the end of the project, with a changing focus on different technical and thematic angles over time.
  2. We organize two drone challenges, one halfway through the project and one at the end of it. The first challenge asks competing teams to fly through an obstacle course as efficiently as possible. In the second competition, we push for gesture-based semi-autonomous control by situating the competition in an unusual yet inspiring setting: fashion. 
  3. We conduct empirical investigations of human–drone interactions through observation, interviews, and microsociological video analysis, to develop insights from the movement-based explorations of drone piloting that may ultimately re-shape work practices in varied industries.

Why Drones?

Aerial drones are particularly apt at demonstrating the potential of digital technology to the larger society, because of their intuitive functioning, stunning capabilities, and widespread adoption. We expect our project to build a greater understanding of how drones deployed in the workspace influence workers’ bodies and movements, shaping their ways of engaging with their tasks. This applies to, for example, rescue teams and repair and maintenance workers requiring visual inspection from high altitudes. The aerial views provided by aerial drones cater for interesting perspectives that mix augmented reality with the possibility to extend a person’s abilities beyond normal human limitations, namely, considering the drone as an extension to human eyes. Finally, legislators may embrace the outcomes of our studies to make current and upcoming aerial drone regulations more cognizant of technology’s features and possibilities, avoiding the risk of placing unnecessary limits to technology evolution and yet without putting resources or persons at risk or promoting undesirable futures.