Researchers have come up with a wearable exoskeleton designed for control of a fixed wing drone. Named FlyJacket, the device is designed to help beginners control a drone while making intuitive upper body gestures, literally spreading their arms wide like wings. Coupled with a headset, FlyJacket is designed to give pilots a natural feeling of flying, while allowing better control and less discomfort than using conventional drone controls.

The soft exoskeleton includes motion sensors to track the pilot's movements. It has built-in arm supports to prevent their arms tiring. The pilot wears a virtual reality headset or other head-mounted display so they see what the drone sees from its front-facing camera. To work well, the FlyJacket requires the drone to fly at constant speed.

The researchers say that the fly jacket allows for the same degree of control but achieved greater consistency between experienced and inexperienced pilots. Users also report feeling more immersed with a greater sensation of flying while experiencing less discomfort than when using conventional controls.

FlyJacket apparently fits into a backpack for easy deployment in the field. Its creators envisage use in rescue missions, inspections or for sheer kicks. The device keeps the pilot's hands free so the drone's pilot can use a handheld control to, for example, tag points of interest spotted while flying the drone. This could be as simple as a switch in a glove that is triggered when a finger is touched against the thumb. These tags can be used to map points of interest for future use. Similar gestures could be used to trigger automated actions like taking off or returning home.

The researchers say they've had to overcome a number of challenges in the development of the device. One was to make sure the exoskeleton allowed for different body types while remaining comfortable and allowing freedom of movement. They needed to achieve this while avoiding slippage between the skin and the exoskeleton that could cause discomfort or even injury. They hope to reduce size and weight and come up with a design that allows the exoskeleton to be put on and taken off more easily.

So far, tests have involved connecting the suit to drone simulation software and quadcopters set up to mimic the flight dynamics of a fixed-wing drone. From these tests, researchers say they found the exosuits performance compares to that of a conventional remote control while achieving greater consistency between pilots. The researchers think this could be to do with the correlation between the visual feedback the user sees with the sense of balance when moving much as the drone does.

Though some pilots reported dizziness, the researchers say this is down to the use of virtual reality goggles and not caused by the use of the exosuit. In fact, dizziness is actually reduced when using the suit compared to when using conventional controls. Again researchers say that moving in accordance with the drone is likely to be helping the pilot. The researchers don't say whether users reported feeling more or less of a fool when using the exosuit.

The research is taking place at the Embedded Systems Laboratory, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

You can see a video of FlyJacket action below.

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