We have lift off: When meditation meets drones

We have lift off: When meditation meets drones

A new documentary gives a unique look into the life of PhD researcher Joe as he develops drone technology that can be used as a social motivator and diagnostic tool, in the absence of human interaction.

Joe’s Drones lifts the veil off academia and contemporary healthcare by following RMIT PhD candidate Joseph La Delfa’s second year of research as he explores the use of drones for Tai Chi meditation by developing an interactive, human-drone experience -  DroneChi.  

Filmed throughout 2019 with more than 50 hours of footage, the 20-minute film showcases the challenges, achievements and curveballs on La Delfa’s journey to CHI2020, the largest global conference in Human-Computer Interaction.

La Delfa said the research project, which was inspired by his own practice of the martial art Tai Chi, encourages bodily awareness - the cornerstone to many preventative and rehabilitative practices like physical therapy.

PhD student Joe La Delfa developed lightweight drones for meditation in the shape of a flower

“This means noticing things like the position of your hands, the movement of your shoulders and the pace of your breath,” he said. 

“Rehabilitation is hard both physically and mentally, so the drone can provide motivation and guidance to do it while also allowing your physiotherapist or clinician to monitor your progress.”

DroneChi uses tiny controllers attached to the user’s hands to move a small drone around, with a movement mimicking Tai Chi and the physical action bringing meditation. 

La Delfa drew on his experience in product design to engineer the lightweight drones, which mimic the form of a flower and have motion sensitive lights that change colour in relation to bodily movement.

“I wanted to create something that could be used solo, to give the user a time of peace and alert them to feelings they may have been unaware of,” La Delfa said. 

"My passion lies in seeing how this can change people's lives.”

La Delfa said the use of drones in meditation practice could have multiple health-promoting applications, from falls risk assessment to physical rehabilitation.  

“We’ve been talking to a physiotherapist and a falls-risk doctor from the Austin Hospital about applying the drone to a person in a physio setting, where the drone will guide the person towards being able to reflect on how their body is moving,” he said.

“At the moment we’re working towards an application of the drones that is unique to how the user moves.”

The drone technology could also help physiotherapists and clinicians assess the progression of a patient’s rehabilitation from afar, and in situations such as meditation classes where it can be difficult to read body language through a 2D video.

“We want to explore options for the drone to act as a guide in lockdown situations like we are experiencing now, where you can’t have a human presence to guide and motivate you,” La Delfa said.

“The drone could act as a physical, guiding presence, alerting users to their movements and provide immediate feedback they might not be able to sense themselves.”

DroneChi has already been picked up after successful trials as a key project by RMIT and CISCO’s Health Transformation Lab, which, embedded in RMIT’s Social Innovation Hub, brings together ideas, leaders, innovators and infrastructure to bring radical new solutions to our most pressing future healthcare issues.

Joe’s Drones premiered at Transitions Film Festival and has now been released on RMIT’s YouTube channel. View here.




Story: Hilary Jones and Jasmijn van Houten


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.