Using a phone to fly a drone (w/ video)

Nov 08, 2011 by David L. Chandler

Imagine controlling an airplane in flight just by holding your iPhone out in front of you: tilting it in the direction you want the plane to travel, or raising it to make the plane fly higher. Or tapping a point on a map on the screen, and having the plane automatically fly to the designated spot.

Now, imagine if the plane itself were a continent away from where you’re doing this iPhone-based controlling.


This is not, in fact, some science-fiction vision of the future — it actually happened this summer, with people at Boeing’s Seattle research and development center controlling a small rotorcraft, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), as it flew around an athletic field on the MIT campus in Cambridge — some 2,500 miles away.

But the most significant thing about this long-distance , explains MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics Mary “Missy” Cummings — who designed the controller along with her students — is how easy it is for even an inexperienced person to fly the plane. The control system designed by Cummings and her students is so simple and intuitive that operators can take charge of flying the plane after just a few minutes of instruction. By comparison, soldiers who control existing UAVs must undergo a comprehensive, months-long training program.

Cummings, who directs the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT, focuses her research on how to make control systems that are easy for people to learn and use. In principle, she says, the control system she and her team have created for smartphones could be used to control any aircraft, even a jumbo jet. In practice, it could easily replace the control systems not only for military drones, but for UAVs used by emergency personnel: for example, to track the progress of a forest fire in a remote area from a safe distance.


This story is republished courtesy of MIT News (web.mit.edu/newsoffice/), a popular site that covers news about MIT research, innovation and teaching.

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User comments : 5

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Bob_Kob
not rated yet Nov 08, 2011
Imagine? Ive been doing this for months now. Its called Parrot AR drone, and for about $300 you can control a quadrocopter through your phone....
domdom1108
not rated yet Nov 08, 2011
that's by Wifi though. Quite a trick to get it to work over mobile signal !
f33dback
1 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2011
No trick to using it over the cell network, that's as easy as wifi, not nearly as reliable though.
This article is laughable.
bertibus
not rated yet Nov 08, 2011
@f33dback: The article is about the ease of use of the control systems. The method of transmission is incidental to the story.
Not2Nutz
not rated yet Nov 10, 2011
And while you're controlling your surveillance copter the gov't is tracking you. Seems like the world is filling up with video cameras, anyway. Now comes the $100 hobby copter taking video to the high ground.
So why not a iPhone flight dynamic control app?
Makes perfect sense to me.
But what will be the long term privacy implications?
N2N