Drones have captured the collective imagination of enthusiasts and companies alike in the last few years. From starting off as a hobby and (rather expensive) toy, drones are now being explored for a variety of applications, from parcel deliveries to espionage, and more. In virtually all cases, the drone is operated by a manual operator on the ground, who uses line-of-sight and/or a system of cameras to guide the flight of the drone. But electronics manufacturer Samsung has bigger bolder plans.
In a recent patent granted to the company, it has come to light that Samsung has patented a flying drone that can detect facial features, pupil motions, hand gestures, and position of a person and respond in real-time. The device, which includes an integrated display, has four propellers – one on each corner – for levitation and motion, and will also include an integrated obstacle detection system that will help it fly smoothly after automatically detecting and avoiding obstacles in its way.
The patent mentions that the drone has a camera and observation system that transmits information to a central control unit. The camera can track users’ eyes, head, hands, and fingers in real-time, and respond in real-time to pre-programmed gestures. According to the patent, it would be possible to control the drone’s flight speed and direction simply by moving and gesturing with one’s eyes, head, hands, and fingers, allowing for intuitive real-time control. The patent also mentions a “joint manipulator” that will be used to change the inclination of the drone’s flight path. The entire unit can be reconfigured to fit different forms beyond that of a standard quadcopter.
The patent application, titled ‘Flying display drone’, was originally filed in Korea in April 2015, then with the USPTO in early 2016, and was granted on February 13, 2018. The patent is believed to include designs for potential inclusion of additional systems on the drone, including a gyroscope sensor, a motion sensor, a vibration system, and/or an accelerometer. There also appear to be indications for possible inclusion of voice recognition capabilities, as well as GPS and a WiFi-based positioning system.
This is not Samsung’s first drone patent. A patent filed in June 2017 for Samsung’s next generation of its Gear VR headset hinted at possible linkages for photo-capturing with drones. The patent indicated that the Gear VR would be able to work with future company drone devices that could be controlled either directly from the headset or through other input features. This is also not the first drone design to use gestures as a control mechanism; in mid-2017, Chinese tech firm DJI released the design for the DJI Spark, a drone that you can control with hand gestures.
However, despite being late to the party, Samsung’s patent indicates a possible new device line from the tech giant, which already manufactures a wide range of consumer electronics from smartphones to TVs and more. This also falls against the backdrop of increased corporate interest in drone applications; notably, Amazon has also filed a bunch of drone patents in recent memory as it explores the technology’s use-cases for its e-commerce offering.
As interest in drones continues to rise, there are also increased concerns about the need for regulation in the sector. Various governments and regulators have announced guidelines and rules for usage and flying of drones. In India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released a set of draft guidelines in October 2017 regulating drone usage. It will be interesting to see how regulation keeps up with advances in technology that make it easier for people to fly and control drones and other unmanned aerial objects intuitively.