by Edouard Roux
Flying a drone is not an easy task. You need an obstacle-free zone and, until recently, someone to pilot it from a distance. Yet now, thanks to researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), you can fly a drone through virtual reality.
Inspired by drone racing events taking place around the world, researchers have conducted a series of crash-tests by implementing virtual reality. The experiment is simple enough: drones fly in an empty room while using VR “flight goggles”, and by sensing virtual obstacles they learn to avoid crashing.
With drones mostly used in warzones, the invention could be seen as harmful if these highly intelligent, autonomous drones were to be used by governments engaged in conflict.
Sertac Karaman, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, was absolute in his assessment of the drones: “All tech can be used for malicious purposes. What is important is how we can prevent this behaviour.”
The positive applications of drones
Professor Karaman has chosen instead to focus on the the positive applications of the drones: “It can be very useful for catastrophes like earthquakes, for example. These drones will be able to find people even more quickly than the ones we have now.”
Karaman’s team used virtual images to create their training space: “We used motion capture techniques, like filmmakers working on animation. The shots are very fast: 360 images per second.” Through these images, drones can sense acceleration and will be able to see obstacles in order to avoid them.
Researchers plan to apply the new technology to many sectors. In an article published online, Professor Karaman said creating cars that are both autonomous and drivable by humans will be the next stage of experiments.
Karaman added: “We will be able to conduct these new experiments. The only issue is the question of ‘adoption’, whether people are ready to be a part of it and find it enjoyable. This is the most important aspect.”