The following post was written by DroneBase CTO, Eli Tamanaha.
Augmented reality is starting to make its way into mainstream computing.
Most people are already familiar with it in the form of Snapchat and Instagram filters. You can put virtual giraffe ears on your head, and what would have been a normal selfie video is now interesting and cool. Or, check out the new Ikea app. You can place virtual pieces of furniture in your house to visualize what they’d look like in real life. This is a really powerful new form of computing, and all the major tech companies are diving deeper. Apple is developing ARKit, Google is developing ARCore, and Facebook is developing AR Studio. You will see AR become much more prevalent in the near future.
There are, however, some limitations to the technology. For starters, all the AR platforms out there are built primarily for the smartphone. Implicit in this is the relatively small scale that smartphones operate on. They project AR onto your face, onto a tabletop, or into a room in your house. Because you have to move your actual body to see around the AR scene, the small scale is appropriate (otherwise you’d get tired). But what if you want to use AR on a large scale? Say, an entire virtual building. How would you realistically move around the scene?
That’s where the drone comes into play.
Drones are much more mobile than we are just walking around. We control them with just our fingertips – flying them quickly around the block and, more importantly, upward against gravity. They are the perfect application for viewing large-scale AR scenes. But, aside from just viewing AR, can they do more? Since they’re so mobile, could we use them to “author” AR? In other words, fly the drone to a location in the sky, hit a button, and boom – place an AR graphic right there. Now, as simple as this sounds, it’s a pretty big shift in our mental model of what a drone is. Previously, it was a camera in the sky. Now, however, the drone becomes a “cursor” in the sky.
The idea of “cursor” is a very basic, but very important concept.
Think of everything we do with a cursor and how cursors have evolved over time to enable different forms of computing. The mouse changed how we use desktop computers, giving us the graphical user interface. Trackpads enabled laptops to be mobile. Touch screens gave way to smartphones and tablets. What’s next? In the world of AR, graphics are now jumping off of screens and into the real world. Will we try to use familiar gestures like swipe and pinch-to-zoom to control them? No, those are intended for a 2D screen, and would be imprecise in a real-world 3D environment. Simply put, to control graphics in the real world, you need a cursor in the real world.
Drones are the new cursor for AR.
This is our vision at DroneBase. It is so much more than taking pictures from the air. We are driving toward a future where people use drones to author AR content around them. Look up and you will eventually see virtual street signs, traffic incident reports, yet-to-be-built construction projects, drone race courses, maybe even a model of the Starship Enterprise (which I challenge someone to build). Drones + AR will be used to annotate the world around us, which right now is a blank canvas. What will we draw? Something creative? Something commercial?
AirCraft is DroneBase’s platform that combines drone and AR. It is built into the DroneBase Pilot app. In our first version, we purposely designed the interface to be very general – so that people could use it for a wide range of projects. In the upcoming months, however, you’ll see many more advancements to suit special use cases. We are closely listening to feedback from both pilots and also enterprise companies from a variety of industries. To be clear, we are not pivoting. AirCraft will lead to more missions of all types, which is our ultimate goal.
It is an exciting time right now as the drone industry emerges from its infancy. If it is to ever weave itself into the mainstream, in everyday people’s lives and everyday businesses, the impetus will be the creativity and passion of our awesome pilots. We’re on the verge of a new drone renaissance.