A Novel Measure of Human Safety Perception in Response to Flight Characteristics of Collocated UAVs in Virtual Reality

Christopher Widdowson, Hyung Jin Yoon, Naira Hovakimyan, Ranxiao Frances Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines how people respond to the presence of a flying robot under various operating conditions using traditional human physiological measures and a novel head movement measurement. A central issue to the integration of flying robotic systems into human-populated environments is how to improve the level of comfort and safety for people around them. Traditional motion control algorithms in robotics tend to focus on the actual safety of collision avoidance. However, people’s perceived safety is not necessarily equivalent to the actual safety of the vehicle. Therefore flight control systems must account for people’s perception of safety beyond the actual safety of the aerial vehicles in order to allow for successful interaction between humans and the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Across three experiments participants passively observed quadrotor trajectories in a simulated virtual reality environment. Quadrotor flight characteristics were manipulated in terms of speed, altitude, and audibility to examine their effect on physiological arousal and head motion kinematics. Physiological arousal was greater when the quadrotor was flying with the audio on than off, and at eye-height than overhead, and decreased over repeated exposure. In addition, head acceleration away from the UAVs indicating defensive behavior was stronger for faster speed and audible UAVs. These data suggest head acceleration can serve as a new index specific for measuring perceived safety. Applications intended for human comfort need to consider constraints from specific measures of perceived safety in addition to traditional measures of general physiological arousal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024


  • Defensive head movement
  • drone
  • galvanic skin response (GSR)
  • virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Signal Processing
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Science Applications


Dive into the research topics of 'A Novel Measure of Human Safety Perception in Response to Flight Characteristics of Collocated UAVs in Virtual Reality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this