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Lessons Learned Watching Untrained People Fly Drones

A Parrot AR.Drone.2, such as the one shown here, was used in the study. (Photo credit: Parrot)
A Parrot AR.Drone.2, such as the one shown here, was used in the study. (Photo credit: Parrot)

You can learn a lot watching someone who has no clue what they’re doing. That’s the basic premise behind new research on human-robot interactions. The study, which involved 90 untrained participants trying to fly drones through an obstacle course, found that it didn’t matter whether the participants were told the robot was cheap or expensive.
“Contrary to our expectation, instructions given to participants had no effect on their performance in terms of speed or number of errors,” read the study.
Younger participants tended to complete the course faster, the researchers found. Those who self-reported as less nervous or played a lot of video games also tended to complete the course faster. But they didn’t find any factors that correlated with fewer errors or collisions.
“We were also quite surprised that after 90 participants and multiple collisions and crashes, the single robot used for the experiments is still able to fly accurately – it is accurate to say that no robots were harmed (much) during these experiments,” said the report. “These results suggest future experiments to run to better predict the performance of different participants, as well as design principles for human-robot interfaces to maximize demonstration ability.”
Researchers from the University of Maryland, Elon University and Washington State University worked on the study. Going forward, they hope to measure stress more directly, perhaps using heart rate or galvanic skin response, instead of relying on what the subjects said. If such future studies found that those indicators correlated with performance, the robot’s maximum speed could be limited during moments of user stress.

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