Turn your VR headset into a first person viewer for drones

Written by George Shaw

Visual Vertigo3D FPV allows you to control your camera gimbal simply by moving your head

Most professionals use a first person viewer to fly their drones, and they can get rather pricey. But, with an inexpensive phone mounted VR headset, it turns out there's an app for that.

You'll also need a VR headset that you can slide your smartphone in. I found a VR headset at the local dollar store, believe it or not, but you can pick them up at Amazon for under $25.00, or you can figure out how to add a head strap to Google Cardboard. I'm not much of a fan of that option, but only because you can't look outside the Cardboard viewer when you need to. Many versions offer a sliding window with which to view the outside, and then the app offers the ability to switch between the rear facing camera on your smartphone in order to get an augmented view of what's in front of you.

Since DJI opened up their Software Development Kit for third party applications, there have been many new apps that expand the capability of the Phantom and Inspire platform. But the one that strikes me the most are apps that can turn your mobile phone into a first person view headset to operate your drone camera in augmented and virtual reality. But thanks to the low latency of the DJI Lightbridge technology, you can also fly with it as well.

One such app is called 3D FPV for the iPhone or Android platform. It's $19.99 US in the iTunes store and around $3 in Google Play. 3D FPV can be used to control your camera gimbal by simply moving your head (in head tracking mode), maintain complete control of your drone camera functions, and access maps to ascertain your drone's position relative to the flightpath you've laid out.

Control the flightpath

There's another app called Litchi, for around $25, this app gives you side by side VR video for flying capability for that first person view, track mode so that the drone will lock onto a subject and follow it, as well as orbit around it. And while you can control the flight path with your head, it's important to remember that you're flying an aerial missile here, and the smoother control the better, so I think it's best to use your standard drone controller and just use the app to get that first person viewpoint. All you need to do is connect your controller to the mobile phone using the Phantom controller's USB connection.

Litchi also has many of the navigation features of the DJI SDK including waypoint point for flying between points of interest to create a repeatable motion control flightpath, missions such as cable cam, selfie and follow me, and other custom RC features. You can even record directly to your iOS device.

But the DJI platform isn't the only drone that can be flown in VR. Parrot AR has also opened up their SDK for the Bebop and other UAV platforms which can do similar flight in virtual reality, and I have a hunch that more drone companies will follow suit as time goes on.

With VR, it's easy to see the benefits of being able to fly your drone and operate it's camera from a first person point of view, and do it rather cheaply.

Tags: Production


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