For her doctoral thesis, Ekaterina Peshkova worked on a natural and intuitive mode of interaction between humans and drones. She expects to complete her work in Klagenfurt this April.
Ekaterina Peshkova loves challenges and she enjoys testing her own limits. At first, the technical sciences seemed very complicated to her, but as the years have passed, she has embraced the subject and became confident in solving technical problems. “Even as a schoolchild, I enjoyed mathematics for the same reason”, she tells us. Peshkova is delighted when she manages to reduce complexity. This passion also finds expression in the topic of her doctoral thesis: She is working on a simplified mode of interaction between humans and drones. Rather than operating complicated controllers, it should be possible to navigate drones through the use of gestures and simple voice commands in the future. “Everything should become simpler”, as she likes to summarise.
Peshkova’s primary concern is that the technology should be perceived as useful by the users themselves. “Typically, designers define vocabularies to interact with drones, which are subsequently tested in studies by the participants.” Ekaterina Peshkova took the opposite approach: Within the scope of her investigation, she let study participants believe that they could control the flight of a drone with their own gestures. (In fact, the drone was controlled externally.) This allowed her to observe spontaneous behavior of users when they are required to interact with a flying robot. Her data yielded a set of user-defined gestures, which flow naturally and intuitively from the study participants, who have no prior experience. In the next step, using the concept of mental models, Peshkova endeavoured to determine the logic behind the gestures used. The results revealed, amongst others, that it is simpler for the user, if all gestures belong to the same mental model, and mixing gestures from different mental models should be avoided. “This homogeneity appears to be more intuitive and tends to lead to less confusion”, Peshkova explains.
Ekaterina Peshkova has no doubt that drones will find their way into our everyday lives in the next ten to twenty years. “If every average person, regardless of their age, will be required to operate drones, we will also need an intuitive form of control”, she states with conviction. Until then, numerous privacy and safety regulations will need to be established; nevertheless, Peshkova is looking forward to a future where drones are commonplace. “It’s going to be great fun”, she is certain. Maybe the dream drawn from fantasy movies can be realised, where humans are carried through the air on tiny vehicles. And perhaps, one day, it will be just as normal to fly on drones, as it is to ride a bike. These are exciting visions of the future for Peshkova, which she would like to contribute to with her technology.
Her contract in Klagenfurt will come to an end in April; for now, she remains undecided about the future challenges she would like to accept. “Define simple”, she says when we ask her how it feels not to know where she is going to be living in the upcoming summer. However, she does know what she wants to be doing: “I want to keep learning, I want to improve things, I want to remain in the academic field, work with students, continue my research”, she says. Peshkova is from Russia and has spent the past five years studying in Europe; first with the Erasmus Mundus Master Program in Advanced Robotics (EMARO) in Nantes and Genoa, then with the Erasmus Mundus Doctorate Program in Interactive and Cognitive Environments (ICE) in Genoa and Klagenfurt, working with Martin Hitz at the Department of Informatics Systems. Each year, she relocated to a different country. She stopped hammering nails into the walls of her apartments long ago; instead, she now prefers to look at digital photos. Being permanently on the move has encouraged her to minimize her possessions. And at the same time, it has maximized her intellectual horizon and the diversity of her experiences.