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New Russian drone technology is a real kicker

With one touch of a foot this new system allows the user to direct a drone towards any destination, make it dance, and even play virtual football.

Aug 17, 2016
At the end of July, during the SIGGRAPH 2016 Forum in California, students from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) presented a new system for human interaction with drones. Light Air is a technology that helps the user direct a drone by just stepping on an image that is projected onto a surface. This new system received the Laval Virtual Award, a prestigious prize given to developers.

"Some time ago Apple invented multi-touch gesture-enhanced technology for the iPhone with which a person perceives technology as part of himself so that even a baby can understand how to handle a gadget,'' explained Professor Dzmitry Tsetserukou, head of the laboratory of Intellectual Space Robotics at Skoltech, and director of the Light Air project. ``We basically developed the same new concept of human interaction with pilotless aircrafts.''

Command with a half-kick

Until recently it was possible to operate drones only with radio commands. Skoltech students, however, proposed using a projector and a 3D sensor to scan the space in front of the drone and recognize human gestures. To give a command it will be sufficient to step on the image projected by the drone.

Mikhail Matrosov, one of the project's developers and a Skoltech student, said the image could be projected onto any hard surface such as asphalt or an airfield.

"Almost any surface turns into a touch screen, but we still haven't used it on grass," said Matrosov. "Theoretically, you can project the image on a wall or a table, but where will you find a table on an airfield? It's easier to use your feet."

Dancing drones

Tsetserukou said the new development makes operating drones more effective and pleasant. "For example, if the drone projects a scalable map of the area, it is enough to step on the necessary button to increase it and indicate the place where the drone should deliver the package," said professor Tsetserukou.

Skoltech has developed several apps. With the first one, when the drone arrives at its destination the projected image helps the addressee to learn what is inside the package, examine it from various sides, read its description and accept or decline it.

Another application is an interactive piano. The drone projects the image of a keyboard onto a surface. The user jumps on the keys, plays a tune, and makes the drone "dance."

The third application is DroneBall interactive football (soccer). The drone determines the position of the player and his feet, projects the image of the ball and moves to the area where the player will kick it in order to catch it and respond.

Professor Tsetserukou believes that eventually robots will also be able to interact with the drones.