At TDC we love the idea of seeing through well-built, high-resolution goggles, without breaking the law.
The problem? We don’t have any.
Back in late September, DJI gave us a tantalizing glimpse of what the future could look like, during their Mavic Pro launch. There, on the display table post-launch, were a few sets of pilot-view (FPV) goggles that were connected wirelessly to some Mavics being flown in a carefully controlled demonstration. We’d been told these had twin 1080p screens. I managed to pop a pair on.
And, instantly, was transported. The view was crystal clear – without the resolution lines that seem to always mark cheaper efforts.
About a year ago, we purchased a set of low-end goggles; essentially a low-resolution LCD screen sandwiched between a couple of chunks of styrofoam with a magnifying lens that you slide forward and backward for focus. Variations of this theme seem to be the method of choice for pretty much any sub-$100 goggles, though some are now shipping with plastic headsets instead of EPF or styrofoam.
We hooked it up and flew it with a Blade Nano QX, just to get a sense of the drone-racing hype. (And really, because we wanted to experience that pilot’s eye view – even though my tests were limited to my backyard and living room in order to more or less comply with regulations. Plus, the Nano is a featherweight with prop guards; it would be hard for it to injure anyone – or damage anything – even if it went out of control.)
And the results? Well, we definitely got a sense of that out-of-body experience that gives drone racers such a rush. But we also got a sense of what terrible resolution looks like when you’re accustomed to looking at retina display Macs or high-def televisions: It was *awful* – especially since the screen is basically a couple of inches from your eyeballs. Any long-term viewing was out of the question.
We’ve also tried on the racing industry standard – a couple of different Fat Shark models. Although we can see why FPV Racers like them, they weren’t for us: The resolution on the models we tried wasn’t great, and the field of view was fairly limited. (In fairness, this was maybe eight months ago, so perhaps they’ve got an awesome new set we’d love.)
The point is: Even with the regulatory issues, goggles are becoming more and more popular. When Parrot released its fixed-wing Disco FPV, the aircraft came with a 1080p camera that could stream back to goggles. Mind you, those goggles were a bit like an upgraded version of Google Cardboard; you had to supply your own smartphone as the screen device. But still – it was a clear signal of the growing trend.
The latest we’ve seen on this front came a little over a week ago from Yuneec. It announced a set of goggles (again, requiring your smartphone) for its Breeze. A 720p signal is streamed back and you can either slide your phone in the goggles or mount it on the controller.
Arguably, of course, DJI already has its own variation of this experience using Lightbridge technology and watching on your tablet. I mean, you can see from the air from up to five kilometers away or longer (which still blows our mind).
But there’s a difference between looking at a screen on your remote and looking through goggles. Goggles shut out the rest of the world and truly put you in the cockpit. And while we are respectful and in agreement with the regulatory concerns about piloting via FPV goggles, we also believe there will be a solution to this. It may come in the form of more drone arenas – such as the one DJI has set up in Seoul, or it might be more sophisticated electronics, whether that’s through the incorporation of very restricted geofences or collision avoidance technology.
Either way – Goggles are here to stay.
Which begs the question: When will we see DJI’s? No one is saying – and there is no hint (even with the big CES show right around the corner). But the fact that DJI’s unit incorporated two separate screens leads us to speculate these goggles will be 3D capable – and perhaps (eventually) even 3D-360 capable once DJI finds or builds a suitable camera capable of real-time stitching. (That, btw, seems to be the real bugaboo in getting quality VR images streamed back to a headset: a device that can instantaneously stitch. Even the tiniest of lag doesn’t work when it comes to flying a device, especially at speed. That’s why the Fat Shark goggles are analog; they can display with virtually no lag.)
Anyway – we look forward to 3D, HD, no-lag goggles. Plus the supporting technology that will allow them to be used legally.