Aerial robots take augmented reality to the skies

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The estimated market value of commercial drone powered solutions is $127 bn[1], and revenue from global drone sales are projected to top $12 bn by 2021, a jump from $8 bn in 2015[2]. This makes perfect sense when you consider that drones are increasingly being used to reach high-risk areas in industries including manufacturing, mining, emergency services, and agriculture; and aerial photography with drones, for example, is increasingly allowing for more effective and cost-efficient monitoring and data gathering than the traditional use of helicopters and satellites to capture insights from the air.

When it comes to drones, it’s still relatively early days, and what some drone pilots might not realise is that rules around flying drones are no longer focussed solely on when and where drones can be flown; regulations are also starting to touch on how drones can be piloted in the safest possible way to avoid unnecessary risk. This is where visual line of sight comes in; the theory that a drone pilot should keep their drone within their visual line of sight at all times. Valerie Riffaud-Cangelosi, Market Development Manager for Wearables & Connected Devices at Epson says “Drone pilots are increasingly relying on Augmented Reality smart glasses to effectively keep sight of and control their drones.”

Epson has been collaborating with leading drone manufacturers to develop cutting-edge technology that has been integrated into Epson’s newly launched Moverio BT-300 smart glasses. Riffaud-Cangelosi explains, “Advanced head tracking sensors enable the drone pilot to visualise a 360 degree canvas, while keeping track of the device and maintaining line of sight. This is an important factor in terms of regulations and piloting experience, because it helps the pilot to concentrate on the task at hand and make quick, smart decisions. They aren’t having to continuously look down towards their hand-held control, nor convert complex 2D images and readings into 3D, 360 degree situations.”

Epson is so confident about the advantages of AR smart glasses over traditional drone piloting instruments that the company has also announced a milestone partnership with the world’s leading maker of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones), DJI. “We’re planning to develop new applications that will further enhance the drone piloting experience, while making flying and filming safer, and remaining compliant with country-specific regulations,” Riffaud-Cangelosi says.

As more and more aerial robots take to the skies, they are bringing back more data and insight that is being used to mitigate risk, improve efficiency in industry operations, and open our eyes to even further opportunities in the future. The sky seems to be the limit when it comes to developing better and more advanced technologies to help us do this, and companies like Epson and DJI are leading the way in making this vision a reality.

[1] PwC, Global report on the commercial applications of drone technology, 2016

[2] Business Insider (BI) Intelligence, 2016