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Piloting a drone with the Oculus Rift

Swedish company Intuitive Aerial has successfully piloted a drone using the Oculus Rift VR gaming headset.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Swedish company Intuitive Aerial has successfully piloted a drone using the Oculus Rift virtual-reality (VR) gaming headset.

Using first-person view (FPV) goggles to pilot a drone is nothing new; hobbyists and photographers have been using them to capture aerial footage for almost as long as drones have been mainstream.

It seems the Oculus Rift VR goggles have some capabilities in that area, as well. Swedish company Intuitive Aerial, which makes aerial camera rigs, has for the first time used the peripheral to pilot a hexacopter.

The system consists of a box containing a laptop, with two cameras mounted on the outside, carried by the copter. Video data from the cameras is compressed by the laptop in real time and sends it via Wi-Fi to the laptop on the ground and through that, the Oculus Rift. Latency is around 120 milliseconds, or 0.12 seconds — not enough of a lag to hinder piloting the copter.

Using just a laptop Wi-Fi card, the team is able to communicate with the copter to a range of 50 to 100 metres. However, using external access points, a range of several kilometres may be possible — dependent, of course, on the battery life of the drone.

"There is a huge difference between this and an analogue FPV system," said Intuitive Aerial co-founder Torkel Danielson on the company's website. "The all-digital design means real-time HD video from multiple (not limited to two) cameras can be broadcasted and received. The received images are then combined into a view-sphere, which can then be viewed in a below-25ms latency loop between ground computer and the Rift."

At the moment, only one member of the team is currently working on the system, as part of his master's thesis project; however, if there's enough interest in a consumer product, Intuitive Aerial is willing to put more resources into development. You can contact the team through their website.