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Droney: an app to support the drone community

Pritish Sai Kannan

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY 14623, USA

emailaddress@rit.edu

Shuishi Fang

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY 14623, USA

sf8859@rit.edu

Vaishnavi Mande

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY 14623, USA

vm7801@rit.edu

Vinita Tibdewal

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY 14623, USA

vt2173@rit.edu

Ruiwen Fan

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY 14623, USA

emailaddress@rit.edu

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Abstract

In recent years, the usage of personal drones (quadcopters) has expanded rapidly. Drones are being used for videography, photography, and racing. Drone enthusiasts have formed demographically concentrated groups to share their knowledge and experience. These groups focus on a few specific topics of interest and act mutually exclusively of one another. Also, many times, individual drone enthusiasts find communication with these groups difficult due to various reasons.

The proposed mobile application, Droney, aims at bridging this gap between the drone enthusiasts and the drone communities. It also aims at strengthening the bonds between various drone communities by acting as a communication medium between them. Droney provides location-based features for identifying flying and no-flying zones. It acts as a question-answering platform for the drone community issues to be solved. The application also provides capabilities for residents to adhere to their rights to claim public safety and privacy.

Author Keywords

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ACM Classification Keywords

H.5.m. Information Interfaces and Presentation (e.g. HCI): Miscellaneous

Introduction

In the last few years, quadcopter, a new class of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, has made great marketing success. The quadcopters present user-friendly control system, high reliability, and hovering abilities. These features ease the pilots’ work and allow certain maneuvers not possible in fixed wings aerial vehicles. The FAA projects the small model hobbyist Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) fleet to more than double from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units by 2022 (FAA Releases Aerospace Forecast, 2018).

Common usage of civil (non-military) drones, according to Abtahi[1], includes photography, video recording, racing, search and rescue. For each purpose, there are specific drone models and maneuver skills. Drone controls vary among various drones. Because of these variations, self-learning about the drones depending on own experience becomes time and effort consuming.

When flying drones in the United States, the flight should abide by a set of rules defined by the FAA. These rules are considered as pre-flight checklists to fly safe which can be found on the official FAA website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/

Other than purchasing ready to fly models, some drone enthusiasts build their own drones. Some of them do this for the passion of DIY(do it yourself) while some are exploring special usage of drones that are not covered by the industry yet. For example guiding drones for visually impaired[3][4], “street eyes”[7], dancing accessory[6], companion device[5], etc. Before starting to build a drone, the DIYers gather information from online sources like YouTube, blogs and, articles. When faced with problems, they check out these issues online via forums and discussions. If the problem is not resolved, they initiate a new discussion. This process is time-consuming and does not guarantee a solution. The community plays an important role in this case.

In this paper, we discuss the research process, the research observations and the Droney, the mobile app designed for drone pilots as the primary stakeholder.

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Initial Research

We conducted 9 semi-structured interviews. One participant belongs to a worldwide organization aiming to connect and inspire people in the field of drone photography and videography. Two participants belong to drone racing groups. They build their own drones. The remaining 6 participants are drone pilots with levels of expertise as shown in the following table.

The interviews lasted for about an hour, and the questionnaire covered the participant’s purchase and flying experience, special skills regarding different usage of drones, rules and regulations knowledge, user experience, and impact on other people.

We also attended a drone racing event on the invitation of one of our participants.

On coding the interviews, we identified 2 major drone communities, the racer group and the photography group. The significant observations are mentioned below:

Access to technical knowledge: Five participants mentioned that they struggled to decide which drone to buy due to the lack of technical knowledge and sources to gain the knowledge.

Learning to fly a drone: All the drone pilots claimed to have experienced a learning curve which varied on the factor of their experience of flying other plane models earlier. The drone community members mentioned that virtual training for beginners is a better way to learn.

Resources to identify flying areas: Individual pilots would rely on personal experience to look for a spot to fly their drone. As different purposes of flying require different terrains, pilots said that they end up spending hours and hours looking around for spots to fly.

Consideration about surroundings when flying: All drone pilots we interviewed showed great care of safety. They would avoid people, complex terrain, open waterbody, and traffic while flying.

Regulations: All the participants are well aware of the rules and regulations for flying drones, and they use different sources to check their flight compatibility with FAA regulations. Some of these sources were reliable, some were not, compared with the FAA provided app, B4UFly.

Drone communities: The 2 drone communities we considered are racers and photographers. These communities do not invest much in the advertisement, particularly the racers group. Mostly, the drone enthusiasts look them up. But, there are also many drone enthusiasts in and around the area who do not know that these groups exist.

Drone race broadcast: Drone races are exciting to watch. They require AR glasses to keep a track of the drones. It is difficult for the spectators to follow what is happening as the drones are quite small in size and thus difficult to identify. So it is not possible for everyone to buy AR glasses just to watch the race.

Drone building: Three participants have experience building drones. They all faced the problems of troubleshooting through the crafting. They had to sort through a lot of online discussions to find the exact solutions.

Cost of the drones: Drones are expensive. Amateurs prefer to buy cheap drones to practice flying. Some drone enthusiasts prefer building their own drones which is cheap and easy for part replacement.

Low-Fi Prototype

To remedy the problems faced by the drone community we propose Centurion, an application aimed to ease sharing information and experiences within the drone community. The decision making for the prototype was done with the help of UI design cards.

The application contains four major components, Maps, Discussions, Resources, and Marketplace. We design the application to serve as a mediator between an individual and the drone community. The application will ensure a seamless flow of knowledge possessed by experts in diverse drone-related fields to the information seekers.

Maps – This feature provides field functions that drone pilots could use when they want to fly. Currently, existing solutions only show no-fly zones (most regulation tools do this right now). In addition to no-fly zones, Droney will also show fly zones based on location. These locations will be marked by drone pilots using the application. This will provide the users a recommendation of spots which are already being visited by other pilots. The event finder will notify users of events nearby to help keep track of them. This feature will provide the users with opportunities to connect with the communities. The “report function”, will allow pilots to send a field message to the community such as spot is temporarily unavailable; found a good new spot; pick up a lost drone and ask for its owner.

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Discussions – The main aim of Droney is to solve the issue of guidance faced by individuals in the drone community. From our research, we found that most of the participants self-learned their experiences with the drones. The process was time-consuming and frustrating. Discussions feature will provide individuals with a platform to get their questions answered on a global level. Unlike Discord (which is currently being used by some drone communities), the discussions board will be a non-linear platform, customized for every viewer based on their profile and recent searches. The discussion board will also provide links to profiles of the people who answer the questions. Individuals can directly communicate with others via personal messages.

Marketplace – This is a feature where people can put drones or drone parts on sale and the people who are interested in buying it can directly contact the seller through our application. During the interviews, participants said that the drones or drone parts are very costly. Also, 2 of the participants mentioned that they have broken drones which still have some working parts on them. Droney aims to connect these stakeholders. So, if a drone is broken and cannot be flown anymore, its parts can be put up on sale using Marketplace. It is not necessary that the drone/drone parts are always old, verified sellers can also put up drone kits on sale.

Resources – This feature provides external links to resources useful for drone enthusiasts. During our research, we found that participants used various sources for regulations to be followed while flying the drones. Some of them are verified while some are not. To provide consistency in the knowledge and reliability of the sources to be used, Droney will provide external links to sites such as FAA and links to tutorials and educational media.

Apart from the features mentioned above, Droney also provides functions to help residents know if there are any pilots flying drones in the vicinity and to mark their property as a no-fly zone. Sharing this information between the drone and the non-drone communities would help maintain the privacy of the residents. This would encourage the residents to have a positive connection with the drone community.

Another function of Droney is to provide a platform for

individuals to ask for help – this can be requesting a drone videographer to broadcast a drone race or request community members to search for a lost drone. The “ask help” function will increase internal bonding between the community members.

Through Droney, we hope that people who never used drone before or are not familiar with drone community could also be able to find things they need.

User Evaluation

We designed a medium-fidelity prototype and conducted 7 usability tests and iterated our design as per the user feedbacks. Each participant interacted with the prototype exploring the app thinking out loud throughout and asking questionsdoubts wherever necessary.

We wanted the app to reflect that the platform is open to all levels of expertise and any group of interest. The app is designed to solve overall necessities of the drone community. The users appreciated the idea to put real-time alerts if the FAA regulations during the flight were jeopardized as they find it boring to read through them.

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Some design changes after the usability tests include changing of hamburger menu to floating action button which increased the engagement with features mentioned under it. Initially, the Map screen was designed to be the startup screen which confused the users. A new screen with homepage was added, a pattern with which the users are familiar.

Conclusion and Future Work

We believe that Droney would provide a platform for the drone community, which is currently scattered, to bond. Droney will enhance connection between the drone community and individuals with different levels of expertise. It will also enhance the relations between various drone communities and provide a platform for the non-drone enthusiasts to reach out to the drone community members.

As per the current design, the classification of the app user into level of expertise is controlled solely by the user. The user experience is manipulated based on the level of expertise of the user. To provide a better introduction of Droney to the users’ we plan to come up with a better way of categorizing the users.

In the long run, asking help from the experts without any returns would be unrealistic. There is should be a balance between the what an individual give to the community and what is received back. Thus, Droney, in future, would provide a way to balance the information flow from the experts and rewarding them for their help.

Currently, Droney doesn’t highlight solutions for the issues faced by the community which is reluctant to the drone technology and has concerns with the usage of drones out in public. We were able interview only 1 person in this regard who was skeptical with drone surveillance. In future, we would like to conduct more interviews to understand the issues and if and how they can be solved with the help of Droney.

And finally, we aim to establish Droney as a one-stop app for drone enthusiasts. This can be achieved by making the application equally appealing to every genre of the drone community and as the community of people skeptical with the use of drones. And, hence this would invite a second iteration of the research process and updating of the design.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all of the study participants for their time and genuine feedback.

References

[1] Parastoo Abtahi, David Y. Zhao, Jane L. E., and James A. Landay. 2017. Drone Near Me: Exploring Touch-Based Human-Drone Interaction. Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous Technol. 1, 3 (September 2017), 34:1–34:8. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3130899

[2] Riham Altawy and Amr M. Youssef. 2016. Security, Privacy, and Safety Aspects of Civilian Drones: A Survey. ACM Trans. Cyber-Phys. Syst. 1, 2 (November 2016), 7:1–7:25. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3001836

[3] Mauro Avila, Markus Funk, and Niels Henze. 2015. DroneNavigator: Using Drones for Navigating Visually Impaired Persons. In Proceedings of the 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers & Accessibility (ASSETS ’15), 327–328. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/2700648.2811362

[4] Mauro Avila Soto and Markus Funk. 2018. Look, a Guidance Drone! Assessing the Social Acceptability of Companion Drones for Blind Travelers in Public Spaces. In Proceedings of the 20th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS ’18), 417–419. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3234695.3241019

[5] Kari Daniel Karjalainen, Anna Elisabeth Sofia Romell, Photchara Ratsamee, Asim Evren Yantac, Morten Fjeld, and Mohammad Obaid. 2017. Social Drone Companion for the Home Environment: A User-Centric Exploration. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Human Agent Interaction (HAI ’17), 89–96. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3125739.3125774

[6] Heesoon Kim and James A. Landay. 2018. Aeroquake: Drone Augmented Dance. In Proceedings of the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS ’18), 691–701. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3196709.3196798

[7] Joseph Lindley and Paul Coulton. 2015. Game of Drones. In Proceedings of the 2015 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play – CHI PLAY ’15, 613–618. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/2793107.2810300

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