Smithsonian features Brittany Duncan's robotics research

Profile of Brittany DuncanDoctoral Candidate Brittany A. Duncan recently had an article published about her robotics research in the June 2014 issue of the Smithsonian online. Richard Conniff, a long-time Smithsonian contributor, authored "Why Are People So Comfortable With Small Drones?" in which he cites the AirRobot quadcopter-style robot* used to represent fairies in the Texas A&M University student production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as proof that people find small flying robots nonthreatening.

When confronted with the audiences' reaction to the "fairies," Duncan and her adviser, Dr. Robin Murphy, began an investigation of the minimal effect the small drones had on the audiences. They found that one possibility for the unexpected response or lack thereof is that small drones are perceived as bird-like by people accustomed to seeing birds flying remotely above their heads and not directly at them, rather than unpredictable and menacing.

This non-excitement elicited by small drones may cause confusion in the future if or when they are used for interactions such as crowd control or package delivery. Duncan said that small aerial vehicles will need to know how to alert people to danger. This is the subject of a study published by Duncan and Murphy in IEEE RO-MAN 2013.

Duncan is a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow and a 2009 graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in computer science with honors. Murphy, Raytheon Professor of computer science and engineering, is recognized as a founder of the fields of rescue robots and human-robot interaction.

*   The small robots used in the play were the result of a collaborative team project between computer science and electrical engineering departments at Texas A&M.