'Feel' your drone with MotionPilot's haptic joystick

It uses motion sensors to make drone flying as easy as possible.

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Steve Dent
January 19, 2018 9:02 AM

Flying a drone isn't as easy as it looks, as any beginner who has ever purchased one of the pricey things and then immediately crashed it can attest. A startup called MotionPilot wants to help beginners and pros alike with a joystick that makes it more intuitive and tactile at the same time. The device, still in a prototype stage, has motion sensors that let you maneuver a drone just by rotating and tilting your hand, while haptics let you feel it turn and accelerate.

MotionPilot, founded by four grad students from France's École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL), says the joystick's hand gesture control are so intuitive that beginning pilots can learn to fly "in a few seconds." To maneuver, you just lean the device forward or sideways, while using a trigger to change altitude.

The joystick has beginner, intermediate and advanced modes, selected by a smartphone app, depending on your level and the type of flying you want to do. The beginner mode controls the trajectory automatically so you can't get into trouble, while the other modes allow for greater operator freedom.

"It's so simple that even beginners can start having fun right away," campus drone pilot Julien Perroud told EFPL. He also tested the intermediate mode for aerobatics, adding that "switching from the old control to the joystick was a snap ... you forget you're piloting a drone."

At the same time, a haptic feedback mechanism incorporated into the handle makes the experience more sensory, letting you feel the acceleration experienced by the drone. That extra input could add a jolt of fun and better flying feel, especially for first-person video maneuvers.

Motion sensor drones aren't exactly new, as DJI's Spark works with hand gestures, for instance, and other companies have built simple drones you can maneuver with handheld devices. However, the haptic part appears novel and could add a fun element to drone flying.

MotionPilot has created a prototype, and plans to launch it to market complete with a drone, joystick and FPV goggles by the end of 2018 (initially without the haptic feedback). The company is still looking for a drone supplier, however, so that timetable sounds a bit aggressive.

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