• Lucy Highton

Can VR robotic interaction ease loneliness for UCL students?

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!”


Like most projects, it’s not been without its challenges. Their plan to fly multiple real balloons caused concern; as they were flying they were creating drag trails so they lines shaped around the real human. There are similarities to autonomous driving cars, but aero drags also need calculating, meaning there’s a lot of physics involved. Before the project, the duo reached out to Professor Owen Holland, the first person in Europe to pilot autonomous balloons, who warned them they wouldn’t be able to solve it in the time they had. They didn’t believe him, but in hindsight they realise they are still trying to get there.


Crystal commented, “It was such a great experience coming to Target3D. They offered a lot of the equipment and technology that we didn’t expect before coming here - it adds a level up for our project, it’s exceeded our expectations. We learnt a lot from them, they were so patient in answering our questions!”

And finally, she rounds up with; “We wouldn’t be lonely if we all had robots with personalities.”


Take a look at the video of the making of I.F.L.Y. here.


To get your next motion capture or VR project off the ground, get in touch with Target3D.