Former NASA astronaut debuts joystick drone controller
Most of the time drone pilots steer using video game-style controllers, or just virtual thumbpads and buttons on a phone screen. But helicopters and planes are steered by joystick-like controllers, so why aren't drones? Fluidity Technologies is working on just such a controller, with the FT Aviator now on Kickstarter.
The FT Aviator is the brain child of Scott Parazynski, a former NASA astronaut who has apparently designed the new controller to be both more like the advanced tools he's used to, but at the same time more intuitive for amateur pilots to pick up. The controller consists of a 7-in joystick sitting atop a base unit with a few extra buttons and dials dotted around it. A phone holder juts out the side to give a drone's-eye view of the action.
The joystick gives users four degrees of freedom in flight, allowing for more natural-feeling movement along the forward/backward, left/right, and up/down axes, as well as yaw (turning left and right). The FT Aviator's creators say the device "reduces the cognitive workload" of flying, so anybody can instead focus on the flight or the filming rather than wrestling to get the drone to do what they want.
To keep the drone from making any unwanted movements, a "deadman's switch" is built into the device, so it will always return to the center unless directed. Tactile feedback should also help to reduce any accidental drift. At the top of the stick are a few LED indicators that tell users which direction the drone is in and which relative direction it's facing.
Buttons on the base unit handle some of the most commonly-used functions, like take-off, return home, snap a photo or start rolling video. Other wheels and knobs control the flight sensitivity and camera rotation and tilt.
Fluidity Technologies says the FT Aviator will work with both Android and iOS phones, and is compatible with most DJI drones, by plugging into the DJI radio controller. The battery is good for five hours' use apparently – that's far longer than any drone is capable of, so users should be able to squeeze several sessions out of it.
Interestingly enough, Fluidity Technologies insists on calling the FT Aviator a "single-handed" controller – but in almost all the photos and videos it seems to take two, with one holding the base. Even if you place it on a table or your lap, a second hand is going to be needed for the buttons and other controls.
One of the few one-handed controls we've seen is Shift, which uses a stick and a thumb ring, but that obviously lacks most of the bells and whistles of the FT Aviator. In the long run we might be able to just wire drones directly up to our brains, and won't need any hands at all.
Fluidity technologies is currently funding the FT Aviator through Kickstarter, where it's so far raised over US$30,000 of its $50,000 goal, with 22 days remaining on the campaign. Early Bird pledges start at $225, which is half the expected retail price at launch. If all goes to plan, the FT Aviator is set to take off in February 2019.
Check out the campaign video below.
Source: Fluidity Technologies