Have you ever wanted to fly a drone with your body? How about while wearing a VR headset that shows you a first-person perspective from the drone and where it’s flying in real time? This is now a reality, thanks to a drone and exosuit developed by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne University in Switzerland. It’s called the FlyJacket, and the user controlling the drone wears a VR headset and a soft upper-body exoskeleton that syncs their movement with the drone’s. The user spreads their arms wide (like wings), and when they turn or roll their body, the drone will move correspondingly while the user can watch through the VR headset. The system works with fixed-wing drones.
The exoskeleton has a motion-tracking device to follow movements and arm supports so you don’t get too tired while pretending to be a bird. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which published a research paper on the project, the suit can detect torso pitch (bending forward and backward), which controls the drone’s pitch, and torso roll (or bending sideways), for turning the drone. The researchers claim that users can more effectively and intuitively control the drone via the exosuit over a traditional controller.
The researchers believe there is commercial potential for the project. “The design of the jacket was focused on keeping the material and technologies at low price to have an affordable product,” one of the team members, Carine Rognon, told IEEE. “In addition, it is small enough to fit into a backpack in order to be taken in the field and adaptable to many morphologies so many body types can use the same jacket.”
The researchers are also working on adding more commands to the drone and exosuit, including the ability to control how fast the drone travels. They are aiming to keep control “as natural as possible” and are also working on haptic feedback to improve flight performance. The project is a neat look at how we might control drones in the future, though it does kind of remind me of Birdly, an installation that lets you lie down and flap wooden wings while wearing an Oculus Rift headset.
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