This Haptic-Feedback Joystick Lets You 'Feel' Your Drone's Movement

Grad students of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne developed a motion-control, haptic feedback joystick for intuitive drone piloting.

Alain Herzog/MotionPilot/EFPL

Motion-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t entirely new, we’ve seen companies as renowned as DJI manufacturing drones that respond to hand-gesture commands, for example. However, four graduate students from Swiss university École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, and their desire to make motion-controlled drone piloting more intuitive has just resulted in a more responsive, joystick-based form called MotionPilot. 

According to Engadget, the start-up company aims to make the actual piloting of things as natural and instinctual as possible, for both beginners and professional drone users. The joystick designed to help achieve this is still in its early stages, but even the current prototype is impressive enough to pay attention to. Equipped with motion sensors, the joystick responds to the slightest tilting and rotating of a user’s hand. The haptic feedback here will relay the drone’s movement back to the joystick, allowing users to feel the commanded turns and accelerations given to the drone. Immediately, vibrating video game controllers come to mind, which will let players feel the collisions experienced in-game with a fairly simple vibrating motor embedded in the controller. MotionPilot’s joystick takes that concept and replaces such a collision notification with the awareness that you’re speeding up or changing directions.

Reportedly, while MotionPilot’s founders claim that the intuitive nature of this joystick will allow novice drone users to become adept “in a few seconds,” the device does provide beginner, intermediate, and advanced modes to make things easier. To pilot a UAV using MotionPilot, one simply leans the joystick forward or sideways and uses a trigger to switch altitude. The beginner mode takes care of the trajectory while the more advanced modes provide complete maneuvering freedom. Julien Perroud, a drone pilot on campus, told the EFPL that “It’s so simple that even beginners can start having fun right away.” Upon testing the intermediate mode to attempt a few aerial stunts, he added that “switching from the old control to the joystick was a snap…you forget you’re piloting a drone.”

Below is the MotionPilot joystick in action.

While the motion-controls mentioned here aren’t a giant leap for mankind, the haptic feedback described is pretty enticing. Personally, I’d prefer to feel my remote control, be it in the form of a joystick or not, to relay my drone’s behavior back to me as symbiotically as possible. Fortunately, MotionPilot plans on selling its joystick, replete with drone and first-person view goggles, by the end of this year. We’re looking forward to getting in touch with our drones even more.