Researchers Made Piloting Drones Easier: Use Your Torso to Fly a Drone

You will be able to ditch the joystick and use your torso to pilot a drone and your head to check out the surroundings, all thanks to EPFL researchers.

EPFL’s Translational Neuroengineering Laboratory – which is led by Silvestro Micera (Chair of the Bertarelli Foundation), will make flying drones more effective with this approach, according to the results of their study which was published in PNAS this week.

The lead author of the study, Jenifer Miehlbradt (EPFL) explains why they want to change the way people pilot drones:

“Our aim was to design a control method which would be easy to learn and therefore require less mental focus from the users so that they can focus on more important issues, like search and rescue.”

She also explains that using the torso, the pilots get the feeling that they’re actually flying and that joysticks, even if they have a simple design, it’s difficult to master them to “precisely control distant objects.”

Tests Show a Precise and Reliable Control in Flying Distant Objects

The scientists began observing 17 people adding 19 markers on the upper body and monitoring the muscular activity. Using virtual reality, participants followed the actions of a drone they saw through virtual reality goggles.

According to their tests, scientists established that they needed only 4 markers on the pilot’s torso to have them effectively fly a real drone through obstacles.

Then, the team used 39 individuals to compare the torso strategies to joystick control, concluding that controlling a drone with the torso is far more reliable, precise, and it requires less training sessions.

Silvestro Micera explains that this way, everyone could operate the machines:

“Data analysis allowed us to develop a very simple and intuitive approach which could also be used with other populations, machines, and operations. The approach significantly improves the teleoperation of robots with non-human mechanical attributes.”

However, these results alone does not make one fly a drone with their torso, yet. Researchers must find a way to add body markers and external motion detectors for the approach to work. Then, the team must make the torso strategy wearable.

This method could have huge implications: it can be used in flight simulations for piloting drones, or maybe even planes in the future.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere