There are different levels of immersion that come with being a drone pilot. For starters, it’s quite something to be able to pilot something from the ground with a monitor in front of you displaying your progress.
After that, FPV goggles take things to the next level. Putting on a pair of decent goggles is like diving into the cockpit of your drone. You get a true bird’s eye view.
But one thing missing from the total immersion experience is the way the drone is controlled. Despite all of the realism that comes with FPV, you still end up flying through your thumbs. As humans can’t actually fly, we have no idea what those controlling movements should be like, but there must be something better than thumbs, right?
At least that’s the thinking behind FlyJacket.
A team from Swiss research institute École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has developed wearable jacket for pilots to control their fixed-wing drones. Instead of thumbs and sticks, users rely on more intuitive and comfortable movements with their entire bodies.
The FlyJacket is essentially an exoskeleton that represents the different parts of the drone. As the wearer, all you have to do it put on the jacket, pretend your arms are the drone’s wings and move your body accordingly. Pitching or rolling your body will lead the drone to make the same corresponding movement. Combined with FPV goggles, this is flying for real.
“The experience starts when you put the FlyJacket on as it gives the feeling of wearing a superhero suit,” said EPFL’s Carine Rognon. As the drone control is very intuitive, user is directly immersed into the flight and can directly start to explore the environment. You almost instantly become embodied to the drone”.
The intuition of flight
The FlyJacket was developed at EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems. The team was led by Professor Dario Floreano, who claims that the exosuit isn’t really something pilots have to train hard to use.
That’s because it’s so intuitive. Long before we ever got our hands on control pads, we pretended that our arms were wings and that we could fly. According to the team, the system is comfortable for beginners for that reason and fine for long-term use because it offloads the weight of your outstretched arms using supports connected to the hips.
The jacket works by using sensors in to detect body motion, which is then translated into pitch and roll.
A solution to motion sickness?
In the accompanying research paper, the team suggests that the device could be used to help FPV pilots struggling with motion sickness.
“Participants reported in the questionnaire significantly less physical discomfort using the FlyJacket than the remote controller. This difference is caused by a higher level of dizziness felt when flying using the remote controller. We hypothesize that, as the participant’s body stays static when using the remote controller, the sensation of motion sickness due to the virtual reality goggles is intensified,” it said.
However ridiculous you might look while wearing a full-on bird suit to fly your drone, you can’t argue that it’s not an interesting idea.
You can read more about the project in the team’s research paper.