Autopilot

A drone. / Photo by: Curriculum_Photografia via Pixabay

 

Aerial robotic drones are typically controlled with joysticks to navigate areas. But a group of researchers managed to develop an interactive technology to enable control using the torso.

The technology has been created by the researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. It is focused on the body-machine-interface system designed for search and rescue aerial drones. With the new system, a user can now spread their arms and let the drone fly. 

In the study, the researchers observed how people use their body to pilot a flying object. About 17 participants joined the study and were monitored using infrared markers placed on their upper body. The markers tracked down the upper body’s movements and muscle activity. The research team observed their movements and determined the most natural ones. To create the necessary flying patterns, each participant followed the actions of a virtual drone which roams in simulated landscapes.

“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. Using your torso really gives you the feeling that you are actually flying. Joysticks, on the other hand, are of simple design but mastering their use to precisely control distant objects can be challenging,” explained Jenifer Miehlbradt, lead author of the study.

After retrieving the movement patterns, the researchers established the strategic points to pilot drones using the upper body. Only four markers were required to pilot both flight simulators and real drones. After the testing, the team compared the torso-based control to joystick control among 39 individuals. The comparison revealed that piloting a drone using torso movements exceeded the joystick control.

The proof-of-concept can still be improved with the integration of other body parts for flight control, such as the head, the hands, and the feet. The researchers are now planning to embed the torso-based control in a wearable device.