Scoop from Eindhoven: Students Technical University present first drone which can express emotions

Student team Blue Jay from the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) proudly present the first interactive drone which can express emotions. By doing this, it can fulfil an important function in saving human lives. During fire emergencies it is essential that no one panics and that an evacuation runs smooth and efficient. The drone of the Blue Jay team can autonomously search for elderly, subsequently calm them down and effectively guide them to safety. On July 9, the team will demonstrate how this works in practice.

Vulnerability of elderly in nursing homes

A nursing home is a place full of emotions; from joy because of a full bingo card to sadness due to the loss of a loved one. But in some instances, there is fear and panic. 600 times a year, a nursing home in the Netherlands needs to be evacuated due to a fire hazard. During an evacuation, elderly often do not know what to do, leading them to be afraid or to panic. Due to this, they are often not able to find their way towards safety. This, potentially in combination with a shortage of nurses, can have serious consequences, in the worst case even death. In 2020 alone 25 Dutch people who are not fully self-reliant have died due to situations like these. To prevent that, Blue Jay is developing the first drone which can calm elderly down and which can actively help them with finding the emergency exit.

Recognizing and expressing emotions

There is a small camera on the drone, which has been programmed to see and recognize the emotions from elderly. If a resident looks happy, the drone will recognize that as a happy person. If a person changes his/her expression to surprised, the drone will recognize that as a surprised person. Once an emotion has been registered, the drone will respond by showing an emotion itself. This happens using a couple of eyes on the front of the drone. To make the drone seem natural it is essential that a natural reaction follows the emotion of the resident. For example, if a resident looks happy, it is natural that the drone looks back happy and not angry or sad.

To let the drone express the correct emotions, the Blue Jay team collaborated with a group of elderly from the nursing home Joris Zorg. Via multiple trials in this nursing home, it has been investigated how residents and employees respond to the presence and expressed emotions of the drone. Manon Schreurs, health and safety advisor at Joris Zorg: “We are proud to contribute by investigating the human aspect, in collaboration with our residents.” Rik Schutte, Lead Interaction Design at Blue Jay, is also enthusiastic about the collaboration between the parties: “This enables us to receive direct feedback from the elderly in nursing homes.”

Enthusiasm for now and for the future

Not only the residents of the nursing home, but also the fire brigade is enthusiastic. Paul van Dooren, Advisor Innovation at Brandweer Brabant-Zuidoost: “The interaction between human being and drone creates an added value to the existing resources. Resources like fire alarms do give a signal, but they cannot provide individual help. This drone is a good step in the direction of being able to provide this specific support. Hopefully, this application can be fine-tuned in the future, for example by using speech- or object detection for the purpose of generating a full analysis of the situation.”

Elderly meeting a drone for the first time

Illustration of emotion detection and response

Blue Jay Aeden