Drone Chi – Exploring the Role of Drones for Rehabilitative Movement

  • 2022

  • Design Research

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Drone Chi brings attention to the way you move and balance yourself. Through the simple act of moving a drone with your hands, Drone Chi blurs the line between action and reaction. The project foregrounds new innovations in rehabilitative healthcare and drives discussion about our speculative future with intelligent machines.

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Image: Mehmet Aydin Baytas
Image: Emma Luke
Image: Jen Farrow
Image: Mehmet Aydin Baytas
Image: Matto Lucas - Health Transformation Lab
Image: Matto Lucas - Health Transformation Lab
Image: Matto Lucas - Health Transformation Lab
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  • Flying a drone requires a high degree of concentration and coordination. It's focused, creative, meditative and playful. What if we take this scenario, and leverage it to include not just the fingers but the whole body? The design challenge was to develop a human-drone interaction that was familiar enough to be functional, but novel enough to yield insights into our possible futures with drones. We asked questions such as, how can we design a system without screens or buttons that is intuitive to use; and how can we turn a drone into something you would want close to your body?

  • Drone Chi consists of a flower-like drone and a pair of elegant controllers that are used to conduct movement. Initially your hands must follow closely as the drone floats around in a circular fashion, but if you do so, it gradually shares control with you. As you get to know Drone Chi, you begin to invent and refine new movements with it. Drone Chi places you in a twin state of acting and reacting, making it difficult to separate its movements from your own. This playfully and meditatively brings your attention to how you move and balance your body.

  • Drone Chi is part of Joseph and Emma’s practice-based PhDs and has generated over 100 citations across 4 publications in the field of Human Computer Interaction. In addition, a demonstration at the 2019 International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) saw hundreds of researchers fly the drones. A user study publication was then awarded an honourable mention for best paper at CHI2020. Drone Chi has also been used in corporate workshops at CISCO's Health Transformation Lab and at Alfred Health's Innovation and Education Hub. There, it facilitated discussions about designing motivating rehabilitative practices that generate diagnostic data.

  • Joseph took 6 months of Tai Chi lessons to form the core experiences that Drone Chi draws from. Being a beginner at Tai Chi was meditative and poetic for him, but also challenging and even a little stressful at times. Trying to follow the class when they are doing something new, split his attention between his movements and theirs. When he did manage to synchronise, movements such as ‘cloud hands’ came to life, he imagined his hands feeling as light as clouds which affected how he moved. He aimed to bring these feelings of coordination, slow movement and imagery into Drone Chi. Kellie O'Callaghan, Board Member of the School of Medicine at Monash University, Regional Chair of the Victorian Mental Health Advisory Body and Major of Latrobe City states, “People are drawn to Drone Chi due to its fun elements and opportunities to experience the freedom of movement. Drone Chi allows for patients in any location to actively participate in their own rehabilitation and daily physical activity. It also allows for clinical and allied health professionals to (potentially) provide physical therapy-based programs to community members in rural and remote communities where like supports are not otherwise available.”