Researchers Unveil Holographic AR Control System for Drones
Theoretically, controlling a flying drone is pretty much like piloting a helicopter except that when it comes to drones, there is no human in the cockpit which makes it difficult to visualize the position of the drone relative to the various environmental obstacles. Your view of the flying drone will be two-dimensional and reliant on joysticks and cameras.
Last week, researchers Shaojie Shen and Chuhao Lio from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology unveiled a new and intriguing innovation which uses holographic augmented reality hardware to generate live 3D terrain maps and allows drone pilots to simply point targets that have been visualized above any flat surface.
The holographic interface uses a combination of technologies to render this. For display, the Microsoft HoloLens headset generates the AR content in the form of a colorful voxel map which you can view from any angle. It relays this via an autonomous drone’s depth cameras as well as raycasting for real-time location data. The system provides the operator with a live and highly spatial sense of the environmental elevation as well as depth and it enables the drone to be easily seen from a third-person perspective and to be repositioned.
The HoloLens headset subsequently feeds the commands back to the drone and determines its next target inside the holographic map by turning the hand gestures and gazes of the wearer into a point-and-click-like controls. The autonomous drone can subsequently fly to the new location while updating the 3D map as it moves.
The researchers also released a demonstration video which looks like something straight out of a sci-fi film, particularly on the holographic side of things. However, as a result of bandwidth limitations, the drone will only provide 3D map data to the Augmented Reality interface and it does not relay the accompanying first-person video.
The team of researchers still has some way to before they can deploy the holographic drone control system. The drone’s data was initially shared using Wi-Fi within an indoor testing space but for outdoor applications, it would be possible to use low-latency 5G cellular connections once 5G networks have advanced beyond their current drone-limited phase. The researchers noted that there were frequent complaints due to the “very limited field of (AR) view” with the first group of testers. This is an issue that the upcoming HoloLens 2 AR headset could address. The first group of testers were also required to practice in order to be more proficient at 3D targeting in spite of previous unfamiliarity with the Augmented Reality hardware, a scenario that might spill over into an imperfect 3D UI or gesture recognition.
The 3D map data will, however, have better bandwidth efficiency than a live-person video. It will need just 272MB of data when it is updating 10 times per second. A live video requires 1.39GB of data to transmit a first-person video imagery at 30 frames per second. In the future, the team is also aiming to incorporate both stream types for the benefit of end users, helping optimize the data to satisfy the network’s minimum bandwidth levels.
In spite of these teething problems, the holographic Augmented Reality system shows lots of potential. Apart from its novel visual interface, it gives you lots of convenience in controlling a remote drone by simply using a simple, portable standalone Augmented Reality headset instead of having to rely on the conventional and fully-fledged computer, monitor and joystick.
The researchers are planning to present this “first step” in merging AR with autonomous drones at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems which is set to take place 25-29 October, 2020.