Drone Cameras: Set to Explode?

A Parrot Quadcopter (Source: Amazon)

A Parrot Quadcopter (Source: Amazon)

Drones with cameras, also known as quadcopters or miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, have been around for years, and are steadily growing in popularity.  There are a number of leading quadcopter makers, including DJI, Parrot, Hubsan, and Walkera, which makes a drone that can be used with a GoPro camera.  The sales of drones are increasing amongst consumers who enjoy flying them, just for fun and to gain a better perspective on sporting events or outdoor adventures, such as the person catching the quadcopter in this image taken at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Quadcopter at Head of the Charles Regatta (Arnold Reinhold)

Quadcopter at Head of the Charles Regatta (Arnold Reinhold)

However, The National Park Service (NPS) has banned drones in all national parks in the United States, citing a negative experience for visitors.  And along similar lines, a recent article in Popular Science outlined a newly launched, slightly controversial solution for stopping unwanted drones.

Camera drones can videotape their surroundings, to the delight of users, but to the dismay of certain people and organizations who would like to keep their privacy intact. Recognizing an opportunity, Rapere, the company that makes the “intercept drone,” has designed a quadcopter with 12 fast cameras that help it identify other flying objects to attack. The “intercept drone” then drops a tangle line onto the offending UAV’s rotors, bringing it down.

Rapere "Intercept" Drone

Rapere “Intercept Drone”

It’s not clear whether this product would be legal, or if it will even be sold, but it does seem to be getting attention for its unique solution to a new challenge. If Rapere does go into mass production, that bodes well for the production of camera modules, which will be needed in vast quantities at that point, ostensibly to both man the interceptor drones and to fill orders for the replacing the drones that they brought down.

Digital Assistant for the Blind: Camera Module Provides “Sight” in EyeRing

The EyeRing system, invented at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, is a chunky ring device with a camera module mounted on it that can aid the blind by providing audio responses about what is in front of them.  For example, in the EyeRing video (below), a man is shopping and commands the ring to detect the color of the shirt he holds.  The image is sent through the system and the result is translated into words; the EyeRing responds, “grey.”

When the camera snaps a photo, it is sent to a Bluetooth-linked smartphone. A special Android app processes the image using computer-vision algorithms and then a text-to-speech module to communicate the results through earphones.  So far, the device is capable of detecting currency type, color, and the amount of open space ahead (the “Virtual Walking Cane”).

Communication from camera module to mobile phone

The camera module sends an image to the mobile phone app, which then translates the image into words and tells the user what it sees. Image: MIT


Camera detecting type of currency

The EyeRing camera will identify currency for the vision impaired. Image: MIT


Although commercialization is likely at least two years away, the potential for this type of technology to help the blind to “see” what is in front of them is huge.  The team is currently working on the next prototype, incorporating more advanced capabilities for the device, such as potentially reading non-braille words, taking real-time video, and adding sensors and a microphone.  The design will also be streamlined to be smaller and have a lower center of gravity. While finger-worn devices are not new, most of the existing ones have been designed for people with sight, so this is truly an exciting breakthrough for the visually impaired.

EyeRing – A finger-worn visual assitant from Fluid Interfaces on Vimeo.