UCL: Can VR robotic interaction ease loneliness?

Updated: Feb 10

I. F.L.Y. is a speculative project that envisions a future where robots are integrated into our daily lives in both the real and virtual worlds. 

Crystal Da and JingCheng Xie developed the project for their Masters programme in Design for Performance and Interaction at UCL's Bartlett School of Architecture, with the tracking and motion capture supported by Target3D.

Outlining the concept, Crystal explains, “We are both interested in the human relationship, the personal relationship, with robots and it triggered us to think ahead. It's not only your friend but perhaps in the future it could have a relationship with your friends in an imaginary place. How robots can enrich our lives.”

Taking the form of an autonomous flying balloon, each I. F. L.Y. robot interacts with humans according to their pre-programmed algorithms. These customised behaviours give each robot the illusion of its own unique personality, allowing it to be perceived as living entity capable of developing emotional bonds and relationships.

In Target3D’s Studio, JingChen and Crystal attached a drone & markers to a balloon. These were tracked using Unity – which tracked the area between target and balloon, then calculated the force to apply to the propeller in order to move the balloon to the target – before being fed back on to the virtual landscape for the human to experience via their tracked Oculus VR headset.

“We are interested in robots – how they can be friends, how they accompany you in your life", Jing Chen tells us. "So many technologies are doing like the Soni dog – how we can make them your companion, so I was wondering how maybe our balloon can be a companion. Bringing emotions into robotics." Is that the future? "We hope!”