Virtual Reality Testing Ground for Drones


Engineers have developed a new virtual reality training system for drones to make them more efficient

Engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a new virtual reality training system to train drone, which enables a vehicle to see a rich virtual environment while flying in an empty physical space.

Reduce drone crashes

Training drones to fly fast, around even the simplest obstacles, is a crash-prone exercise that can have engineers repairing or replacing vehicles regularly. To solve this issue, the team has made ‘Flight Goggles’ that can reduce the number of crashes experienced by drone in an actual training session. It can also serve as a virtual testbed for any number of environments and conditions in which drone can be trained to fly fast.

Testing with Flight Goggles

The virtual training system includes a motion capture system, an image rendering program and electronic circuitry, which enable the team to process images quickly and transmit them to the drone.

The actual test space that researchers utilised is a hangar-like gymnasium of MIT and it is lined up with motion capture cameras to track the orientation of drone as it is flying. By using the image-rendering system, scientists were able to draw up photorealistic scenes of a loft apartment or living room and beam these virtual images to the drone as it’s flying through the empty facility.

As a result, even when the drone is flying in empty space, it will be hallucinating a completely different environment and can learn in it. These virtual images can be processed by drones at a rate of 90 frames per second, which is around three times as fast as the human eye can see and process images. To achieve this, the team made a custom-built circuit board that integrates a powerful embedded supercomputer. The system also has circuitry for measurement unit for inertia. All this hardware is fitted into a small, 3-D-printed nylon and carbon-fiber-reinforced drone frame.

In future, this kind of virtual environment may be used to train drones to fly along with people and we may see a future where drones will safely fly beside a person as he is running.