Glove-based system lets users write letters in the air – with a drone
If you've ever tried controlling a drone with a traditional joystick unit, you'll know that it's difficult to get the hang of. An experimental new system, however, lets people actually write letters in the air with a drone, using a special glove.
Developed in the Skoltech lab at Moscow's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, the prototype "DroneLight" system currently consists of three main parts – a small Crazyflie 2.0 quadcopter equipped with an array of programmable RGB LEDs; a glove equipped with an inertial measurement unit (which is an accelerometer/gyroscope combo); and a base-station computer running a machine learning-based algorithm.
As the user moves their hand as if drawing a letter of the alphabet in the air, the glove tracks those movements and wirelessly transmits the data to the base station. There, the algorithm matches those hand movements up to the shape of a letter that it was previously taught to recognize. So far, the letters S, K, O, L and J have been defined.
Finally, the computer takes control of the lit-up drone, getting it to fly in a pattern that replicates the shape of the letter. The copter moves fast enough that onlookers are able to determine which letter it's "light painting" in the air. Flying a drone in such a pattern at such a speed would be very difficult for all but the most experienced of pilots.
The scientists now plan on adding more gestures/letters to the DroneLight alphabet, and making the algorithm faster and more precise.
One obvious application of the system is search and rescue, with stranded users getting the quadcopter to sequentially write the illuminated letters S-O-S high in the air. The possibilities don't stop there, though.
"The most fascinating application can be DroneMessenger, when partners can not only exchange messages and emoji over the distance but also enjoy the light art during a starry night," says Prof. Dzmitry Tsetserukou. "Another application is a show of drones when an operator can generate dynamic light patters in the sky in real time. You can also imagine another system, SwarmCanvas, where users located in remote places can draw a joint picture on the canvas of the night sky. Currently, drone show systems just reproduce predesigned trajectories and lighting patterns."
A paper on the research was recently presented online at the IEEE International Conference on Robot & Human Interactive Communication.
DroneLight is demonstrated in the following video.