Using haptic feedback joysticks to fly drones

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A new joystick developed by startup MotionPilot lets users fly drones with just one hand in a fun, intuitive way. One version of this device includes a haptic feedback mechanism that gives users a sense of the drone’s position as it moves through the air.

The system has three modes, each corresponding to a different ability level, so even experienced users can enjoy a challenge. “In the beginner mode, the system will automatically control the drone’s trajectory to make the flying experience as easy as possible,” says Peter. The intermediate and advanced modes allow for increasing user control and freedom. Users can select the flight mode from an app on their smartphone.

«Switching from the old controller to the joystick was a snap. The joystick becomes second nature – you forget you’re piloting a drone. It’s a major improvement

Perroud tested the drone’s intermediate mode and was pleasantly surprised by what he could do – especially in terms of aerial acrobatics. “Switching from the old controller to the joystick was a snap. The joystick becomes second nature – you forget you’re piloting a drone. It’s a major improvement,” says Perroud. “I’ll be curious to see how the founders incorporate all the features of a handheld control device in this new design.”

Timothée Peter, Benjamin Bonnal and Arthur Gay, three of the cofounders of MotionPilot

Giving drone users the sensation of flying

MotionPilot’s founders didn’t want to wait until graduation to launch their company and start moving towards their ultimate goal: revolutionizing the relationship between humans and drones. Until now, flying drones was largely a mechanical exercise that lacked the sensation of flying. But thanks to the company’s new joystick – and more specifically, the haptic feedback mechanism integrated into its handle – drone pilots are in for an exciting, holistic experience.

While other engineers have toyed with the idea of using joysticks to fly drones, they employ completely different technology and – unlike MotionPilot – do not use a haptic feedback mechanism. The startup’s system combines sensors installed on the drone with haptic technology integrated into the joystick handle to pinpoint the drone’s position in the air and relay the forces it is exposed to. The system also includes goggles that users can wear for a first-person view (FPV) experience. MotionPilot’s four entrepreneurs – all under 25 – bring complementary skills to the table, enabling them to methodically design, engineer and fabricate their system. For now they prefer to keep their trade secrets under wraps.

MotionPilot has already won several entrepreneurship awards and grants, including funding from Venture Kick and European Student Startups, and the top prize in the START competition. Their next step will be to launch a complete kit on the market consisting of a drone, a joystick and FPV goggles, giving users a fully immersive flying experience. The firm is already in talks with drone manufacturers and is aiming for a market launch, although initially without the haptic feedback mechanism, before the end of 2018.

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Innovation | 16 articles