Is Real Reality The Next Big Thing?
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Saturday, 07 November 2015

Drones and VR-like techniques could bring us real reality rather than just the boring old virtual kind. In fact, given VR hasn't ever really managed to take off, perhaps these drones will.

You need to keep Betteridge's law of headlines in mind as you read this report. 

The Human Media Lab (HML) at Queen’s University Canada has some high flying ideas that involve using drones as voxels, i.e. the 3D volume equivalent of a 2D pixel.  To quote from the description of the project:

“BitDrones brings flying programmable matter, such as featured in the futuristic Disney movie Big Hero 6, closer to reality. It is a first step towards allowing people to interact with virtual 3D objects as real physical objects.”

BitDrones are described as "self levitating" and they either carry a payload of a cube representing a voxel or a curved screen that a human can interact with.

There are three types of BitDrones:

  • PixelDrones are equipped with one LED and a small dot matrix display.

  • ShapeDrones are augmented with a light-weight mesh and a 3D printed geometric frame, and serve as building blocks for complex 3D models.

  • DisplayDrones are fitted with a curved flexible high resolution touchscreen, a forward-facing video camera and Android smartphone board.

All three BitDrone types are equipped with reflective markers, allowing them to be individually tracked and positioned in real time via motion capture technology. The system also tracks the user’s hand motion and touch, allowing users to manipulate the voxels in space.

See them in action in the video below:



Apart from the fact that there seem to be far too few of them, it is sort of impressive in a "we could do better" sort of way. The problem is the noise. Even the quietest drones buzz like an electric fan on overdrive - they aren't called DRONES for nothing. 


Imagine working with the suggested 3D UI that allows users to physically explore a file folder by touching the folder’s associated PixelDrone. When the folder opens, its contents are shown by other PixelDrones flying in a horizontal wheel below it. Files in this wheel are browsed by physically swiping drones to the left or right. And all while the noise of a dozen drones makes it impossible to think straight. 

Even if the researchers progress to their next goal of using tiny 2-inch drones and lots of them this is one idea that almost certainly isn't going to take off. 

This is a really fun idea but unless some one invents a real self-levitating BitDrone that is silent and unobtrusive VR, even if you have to wear a display mask,  still has a lot going for it. 




More Information


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Last Updated ( Saturday, 07 November 2015 )