ETH Career Seeds Grant
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​Abstract: Today, physical Human-Robot Interaction (pHRI) is a widely studied topic in the field of ground manipulation. At the same time, thanks to its large number of applications, physical Aerial Robot Interaction (pARI) is also developing very fast, attracting a lot of interest and funding. Nonetheless, to be part of our daily life, aerial robots must be safe and reliable when operating close to and actively with humans. However, the investigation of HRI with aerial vehicles has not been addressed yet, likely due to the extra complexity introduced by the floating platform. This project aims to be the first investigation into the novel research field of physical Human-Aerial Robot Interaction (pHARI). Although pHRI with ground robots has been extensively investigated, the use of aerial robots demands a careful treatment of the interaction and the stability of the system.

To start the investigation, we propose to study a system first of its kind: a human holding a handle physically connected by a cable to an aerial vehicle. The robot shall guide the human using forces only, e.g., to help visually impaired persons. For this system we want to study

  1. its modeling, finding the opportune abstraction to describe macro behaviors; and
  2. a human-aware controller that adapts to human behavior and for which we can provide formal stability and robustness guarantees.

This pioneering project will lead to one of the first aerial systems able to physically interact with humans safely and reliably. In particular, the robot will be able to steer the human toward a desired position or along a desired path. During the interaction, the robot will indirectly (by sensing the human state and interaction forces) estimate the human intention and adapt to those.

The proposed investigation will initiate a new promising and fascinating research direction toward aerial robots that can safely cooperate with humans. The study together with the developed methods will provide general intuitions and methodological approaches to address pHARI. The results of the projects are expected to provide key findings in control or aerial platforms as well as in HRI, enabling new applications such as human-aerial robot collaborative transportation, manipulation, and construction.