Thanks to camera-equipped drones such as the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, also called multicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), we’ve seen a lot of beautiful aerial videos in the recent past. But these things have a downside to them, as they usually need two people to operate: one person to control the drone, and one person to control the camera. Thanks to a project at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, this could soon change.
In an attempt to create an immersive experience that could be employed “for personal enjoyment, as well as for performing tasks involving visual inspection of otherwise inaccessible structures and terrain features,” the researches hooked up an Oculus Rift virtual reality head-mounted display to a DJI Phantom drone copter. But they did not just create a direct link between the headset and the drone.
What they did was to equip the drone with dual cameras for a true 3D experience, and forward the drone operator’s head movement – recorded by the Oculus Rift’s orientation sensors – to the camera module. This way, the operator can change the camera’s orientation simply by moving his or her head, thereby eliminating the need for a second person to operate the camera.
There are still a couple of issues with this project, though, chiefly getting the two cameras on the drone copter aligned correctly for a truly immersive 3D view. (If the cameras aren’t aligned correctly, the operator’s brain will be unable to combine the incoming stereo images into a three dimensional image.) Also, currently the screens in the Oculus Rift don’t resolve high enough for a true reality-like experience.
But further work on this technology should produce better results and could very well lead to a whole new generation of drones that are controlled through VR headsets. Which could, in the end, help revolutionize the way that aerial video footage is taken.