Imagine for a moment, a drone that can look anywhere. It can look straight down, straight up, and everywhere in between. The drone presents to the pilot whatever view she wants because it has complete 360-degree camera coverage. Now image a drone that will fly in whatever direction that the pilot is looking simply by pushing forward on a single control. This is the vision outlined in a new drone control patent filing from Half Chrome.
360° Camera – The Enabler
You might be wondering, why has no one used a control system like this before? We all want to fly like a bird does, so what has been stopping us? The answer is simple, drones can’t look up. The most popular camera drones from DJI, Yuneec, and Autel all have a very limited look-up angle. The GoPro Karma broke some ground recently with the ability to look up a whopping 20°, but that’s still far from 90°.
The image above which was taken with an inexpensive LG 360 Cam that was hanging under an inexpensive MJX Bugs 3, the precursor to the Force 1 F100. You can spin it around. As you can see, the body of the drone can get in the way of the image. (Star Wars characters can also get in the way.) The only way around this is to integrate the camera, or cameras, into the design of the drone.
A Simple Idea
It’s not too complicated of an idea. You look somewhere and that’s the direction you fly. This way of flying is really intuitive and would be easy for beginners to learn. Before we talk about the controls, let’s take a look at the most common drone control scheme.
Standard controls work one of two ways. On GPS-controlled drones, the right stick moves the drone around in space while maintaining a constant altitude. The left stick is used to change altitude and controls the orientation of the drone about the vertical (yaw) axis. On racing drones and some toy drones, the right stick controls the pitch of the drone (leaning forward and back) and the roll of the drone (leaning left and right), while the left stick controls the throttle rather than altitude directly.
So how will these new controls work? It could be done in different ways but we will show one idea of how the pilot would navigate in this new coordinate frame.
In this new scheme, the left stick would control the view angle of the view that the pilot sees. The view angle is different than the camera angle. This drone has a 360° camera, so there is no camera angle per se. Instead, the pilot can look higher, lower, left and right with no bounds on how far the view can tilt or spin. The view of the pilot sets the course and then the pilot uses the right control to fly along that path using forward and backward using controls accessible with their right hand, potentially with a trigger-style slider or rocker control on the back of the remote.
The left/right motion of the right stick could be used to move the drone left and right, like changing lanes on the highway. Finally, the up/down motion of the right stick could move the drone up and down, perpendicular to the direction of view.
But wait, I have an extra control now? That seems more complicated. Don’t forget, you theoretically never need to use two of the controls. And don’t forget that current photography drones with gimbals also have one or two additional controls to adjust the angle of the camera.
A “Second Pilot”
Drones like the DJI Inspire 2 and the Yuneec Typhoon H can be flown by two pilots, one who controls the drone and the other who adjusts the camera angle. Frequently, these high-end drones even have two cameras, one camera for the pilot and the second camera for videography.
The same can be done with a 360° camera drone but there is no need for two cameras. Maybe the Phantom X or the Phantom 5 will incorporate this technology. The drone can feed two different images to the two different pilots! The pilot can navigate using the first field of view and a cameraman can capture the perfect angle with the other. But wait, there’s more!
The cameraman is actually unnecessary. With a 360-degree camera drone the video can be edited in post-production to get any camera angle the producer desires. And the reference frame for the post-production process does not need to be the drone. The video can be completely stabilized using the drone’s sensors including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and compasses.
A New Way To Race?
It can be hard to predict how new technology will really be used and adapted. Thomas Edison probably never predicted we would be using phones for flashlights, let alone email. That said, we are excited about the possibilities a new navigation system might hold for racing drones. Phantom R, anybody?
If you are a skier then you were probably taught to look where you want to go and your skis will follow. We think the same may hold true for this new method of navigation which may soon prove to be the fastest way to navigate a track. Currently, drones must always main forward flight or else the pilot loses view of where the drone is going. Not so with 360° camera coverage. In this new scheme, if the pilot needs to make a quick U-turn, she could shoot for an obstacle and coast in “backward” before punching it in the direction they are already looking. The drone could even have a “Look Behind” button like in Mario Cart!
The possibilities for acrobatics are also pretty awesome. Some moves, like the barrel roll, may become somewhat obsolete since the effect can easily be faked in post-production when using a 360° camera.
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