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May 6, 2016 | News

Hololens and Drones: A Perfect Match


At AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL conference, Drones-as-a-Service provider Insitu announced the establishment of a specialized commercial business unit. The new division will leverage its existing airframes, data science teams and Inexa Control (the commercial version of its ICOMC2 control system) to provide solutions to an expanding base of clients in industries like firefighting, energy and railway monitoring.

Greer Carper, ICOMC2 product manager at Insitu, illustrated the capabilities of Inexa Control with hands-on demonstrations of the system utilizing the Microsoft HoloLens. The walkthrough consisted of an interactive augmented reality overlay of a real-world wildfire scenario complete with a 3D map and variety of fixed-wing and UAV drones at the user’s control.

All of the airframe’s core functions were available for the user to manipulate. Tapping into a drone’s camera was a matter of only a couple of gesture-based clicks, and important flight information like trajectory could be mapped with waypoints placement. From an operations standpoint, the benefit of tracking the airframes in 3D space is clear: Altitude is only a number on a 2D map, but was a tangible reality in the HoloLens demo.

The demo took some time getting used to. The HoloLens still has that wishy-washy scanline feel of Google Cardboard, but the setup and operation is more mature. Also, using your own hands to move things around is mildly disruptive to the simulation at first, but the visual feedback is its own teacher. Overall, the demonstration proves at least one use case for Hololens in the enterprise.

Carper explained that Insitu built Inexa Control on Unity to ensure multi-platform use. That means regardless if the client’s device of choice is a smartphone or tablet (or even a device as complex as the HoloLens), a bespoke solution can be carved out to match their needs with a common codebase for all devices. For example, the UAV controls are provided by a simple plug-in for ArduCopter-based vehicles.

Development editions of the Microsoft HoloLens are shipping now for $3,000, and as only a prototype, Carper believes they’ve just begun to tap into its potential. “We’re not expecting to sell tons of $3,000 devices to teams, but this is only the first round, and as the chips and form factor improves, more and more teams will want them.”