Drones are easy to buy — not as easy to fly. Your childhood self, however, may have had the answer all along. Researchers have developed a new system that lets you control a quadcopter by twisting your torso, and even by putting your arms out to the side like imaginary airplane wings ready to catch a lift.
The study, "Data-driven body-machine interface for the accurate controls of drones," published in the PNAS journal, describes a way to steer drones using just the upper-body and arms as well.
Discovered first by Inverse, which interviewed one of the authors, the system out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) is described by researchers as a "body-machine interface" (BoMI) and "…allowed participants with no prior experience to rapidly master the control of both simulated and real drones…," said the paper's authors. Using just their body movements, people in the study managed the drones so well, they did better at flying the quadcopter than if they used traditional joystick controllers.
Flying drones can be tricky — even experienced pilots can have a bad moment, and crash their bird. Videos of drones flying into trees and the ground are easy to find, and while amusing, it's not so fun when your drone is the one with a twisted rotor. In some cases crashes are less amusing, such as when they can cause harm to someone on the ground, endanger rescue workers or create a problem for commercial airliners.
People in the study, primarily made up of male college students, were given a virtual drone to try and fly first by using just their torso. They were then allowed to fly a real drone using the same method. None of the pilots had experience flying a drone — yet were able to get them in the air, and fly them well.
The authors note that drone training can take time, but by using BoMI strategies, they believe pilots can get better, faster. They also see the method helping "individuals with limited or impaired body functions," they wrote.