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Kinect makes your hand a quadrocopter remote

With the right Kinect Xbox controller hack you can steer a remote-controlled quadrocopter with the simple wave of a hand.

steering a quadrocopter with a Kinect Xbox controller
The latest portable remote control for toy helicopters is your hand.
video screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

Harry Potter would be jealous. The folks at ETH Zurich's Flying Machine Arena are making quadrocopters fly around the room with only hand gestures--no wand required.

The little four-rotor helicopter's remote control is hooked up to a Kinect Xbox controller and the controller's cameras are mounted above the user to give it a top-down view of the user's gestures.

Hold your right hand out, and the quadrocopter hovers a set distance away from you in line with your head and hand. Sweep your right hand, and the quadrocopter moves in the direction your hand's moving. Hold your left hand over your head, and the quadrocopter does a loop. Clap, and the quadrocopter lands.

It sure seems like magic; check out the video below.

The ETH Zurich researchers get to play with these remote control toys all day long. Gesture control is their latest development. The goal is to give people a more natural way to control quadrocopters. The Flying Machine Arena crew had been using a special wand to simplify quadrocopter control compared with the usual joystick remote. Kinect takes it a step further.

"It would be awesome to be able to just point to tell the quadrotor where to go," said Sergei Lupashin, one of the ETH researchers. "You can imagine using these vehicles to do precise surveying by just pointing to where a certain measurement/photo should be made."

Related links
• Microsoft advances natural UI with Kinect SDK
• Wow: Flying robot 'quadrocopters' juggle ball
• Laser-powered quadrocopter stays aloft for 12 hours

Quadrocopters' small size, low cost, and high maneuverability make them good for many uses beyond the obvious military/law enforcement eye in the sky. People are also using them as eyes for aerial surveying and inspecting power lines, and, of course, as awesome toys.

Of course, you have to be careful with gesture interfaces. You might not always realize that you're gesturing--or that the controller is watching. Check out the outtake at the very end of the ETH video.

The ETH brainiacs aren't the only ones using Kinect controllers and quadrocopters. The Stanford/Berkeley Testbed of Autonomous Rotorcraft for Multi-Agent Control and MIT's Robust Robotics Group separately have gone in the opposite direction from ETH: They've mounted Kinect sensor arrays on quadrocopters. The Kinect controllers act as a kind of rudimentary radar, which lets the quadrocopters navigate for themselves.

(Via IEEE Spectrum)