How To Pilot A Drone Using Virtual Reality

Imagine piloting a drone using the movements of your torso only and leaving your head free to look around, much like a bird. The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne  (EPFL) research, in Switzerland,  has just shown that using your torso to pilot flying machines is indeed more immersive – and more effective – than using the long-established joystick.


Our aim was to design a control method which would be easy to learn and therefore require less mental focus from the users so that they can focus on more important issues, like search and rescue,” says lead author Jenifer Miehlbradt of EPFL’s Translational Neuroengineering Laboratory led by Bertarelli Foundation Chair Silvestro Micera. “Using your torso really gives you the feeling that you are actually flying. Joysticks, on the other hand, are of simple design but mastering their use to precisely control distant objects can be challenging.

The scientists wanted to observe how people use their bodies to pilot a flying object, in this case a drone, and determine which movements are most intuitive and natural – approaching the pilot problem from a completely new perspective.

They started by monitoring the body movements of 17 individuals thanks to 19 infrared markers placed all over the upper body as well as their muscular activity. Each participant followed the actions of a virtual drone through simulated landscapes that passed-by as viewed through virtual reality goggles.

The results are published in the journal PNAS.