We normally make a point of not hyping up products until they’ve actually launched. The drone industry has learned the hard way that crowdfunders and marketing campaigns with more style than substance tend to end in disaster: GoPro, Nano, Lily, to name a few.
Drone crowdfunders are especially tricky. When it comes to aviation, getting something to fly is hard enough. Incorporating autonomous flight modes and sophisticated aerial photography gear makes the whole thing a lot more complicated than your average project. It seems as though ambitious developers realize that too late and end up overpromising and, in some cases, not delivering at all.
So with that in mind, we’re careful about which interesting projects we publicize. There are a lot out there, after all. But it’s also important to note that platforms such as Kickstarter are starting to become more than just a way to take a project from inception to fulfilment. Some startups are using the platforms more for their marketing reach than anything else. These projects usually have all of the R&D done and are just looking for an easy way to score pre-orders.
It goes without saying that there’s less risk involved with backing a startup that already has a product ready to go, rather than backing an idea and hoping that it becomes a reality.
So, with all that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at FT Aviator.
A More Intuitive Drone Controller?
We received news this week from Fluidity, a startup founded by former NASA astronaut, pilot and physician Scott Parazynski. The company’s first product is the FT Aviator, a drone controller that’s attempting to change the way we conceptualize piloting UAVs.
The single-handed controller has been designed for commercial pilots, enthusiasts and novices, and promises increased flight precision and video quality. The company has done this, it says, by applying “spaceflight and robotics control expertise to address and improve upon the many challenges of drone flying.”
Take a look at the video below for more detail:
We’re all familiar with traditional drone remote controls. They tend to resemble a gaming controller: both thumbs are needed. The right stick controls yaw and elevation, the left pitch. The FT Aviator aims to incorporate the four degrees of freedom through space (x, y, z and yaw) through a souped-up joystick.
The quick-to-assemble drone flight controller consists of a joystick, a base and a smartphone holder.
Their product will “eliminate the awkward interface and steeper learning curve of existing dual-handed drone control, as well as provide tactile and visual feedback on what’s really happening with an aircraft.”
DJI pilots will be used to having access to certain functions – record, gimbal movement, exposure etc – at the touch of a button. Some are incorporated into the controller. The FT Aviator promises to go one step further, with dedicated buttons to control the rate of tilt on-the-fly, shutter speed, exposure compensation and even zoom – all in an effort to create smoother video sequences.
“Working with everything from the Space Shuttle robotic arm to surgical robotics in labs I found controllers clunky, inaccurate and in no way related to the dynamics of movement through space,” said Parazynski, founder and CEO, Fluidity Technologies. “Our patented technology changes that – for the first time providing highly-intuitive, precision movement to UAVs. It stands to lower the barrier to entry to drone flying, tremendously enhancing precision while also making drone flight a lot more fun.”
FT Aviator: The Features
So far we know that the FT Aviator is approaching flight control from a different angle. We won’t know how intuitive it actually is until we get our hands on a unit to review. The fear would be that learning a whole new control system and button layout will be too much for some pilots to contend with, even if they’d readily admit that standard controls aren’t the perfect solution.
Here are some of the features that Fluidity have publicized to date:
Human-Centered Engineering: According to Fluidity, the FT Aviator reduces the “cognitive workload” for drone pilots. The single-handed controller offers a more natural cognitive translation of hand-to-device movement,, so in theory it should be easier to coordinate your movements with the drone’s, and result in smoother control all round.
With smoother, more intuitive motion, pilots can focus on what they’re filming, not the mechanics of how they’re getting there.
Tactile Feedback: Fluidity has included a “return to zero” function that offers anti-drift capabilities and feedback when commanding a motion prevents inadvertent motion inputs in the other degrees of freedom.
In-depth Video Functionality: The controller has dedicated buttons to slow the rates of tilt control to get smoother video sequences, as well as other commonly accessed camera functions. Pilots can use them without having to dive into multiple layers of the associated flight app.
Insurance for Human Error: A capacitive dead-man sensor is located in the upper joystick grip, adjusted so that inadvertent stick movements won’t result in unintended drone motion.
All in all, it’s an interesting concept and not something we’ve seen before. We hope to get a unit to review and take the FT Aviator for a spin in the New Year.
Where can I buy one?
The FT Aviator is currently compatible with nearly all DJI drones, with the team working to extend that compatibility. The FT Aviator is expected to retail for $449 but is available for pre-order now on Kickstarter for $225.
It is expected to ship to customers in early Q1 2019, although things can and have often gone wrong in the world of crowdfunding, as we know.