Both AR goggles and VR headsets have a time and place when it comes to flying drones. VR provides the best immersive experience, AR adds information to your flight. Both techniques hug your face, and one has legal considerations.
Let’s take a quick look at the two types of smart glasses, see what is right for you for your drone flying style.
Why trust Drone Rush?
I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.
First up, it is important to remind you that most countries of the world require direct line-of-sight to your drone while it’s in the air. Speaking for the United States, the FAA is very strict about this rule, however, it is only valid while you fly outdoors. Flying indoors changes the game, this is why many drone races are indoors, the racers can wear all the goggles they want!
Your choice of goggles can help or hurt your line-of-sight flight, as you’ll see below.
No matter which option you choose, putting a small screen right in front of your eye(s) is an exciting way to experience drone flight. Live streaming drone video is pretty normal stuff these days, we recently explored a few of the ways you can view that drone video.
The other extremely important factor for AR and VR goggles is latency. Both types of goggles, theoretically, offer similar latency, either way, any significant delay can result in a crash, so choose wisely regardless the style.
Enough basic logic, let’s dive into the goggle styles.
AR, I am sorry I did not specify this sooner, AR stands for Augmented Reality. This is a display that does not entirely block your view of the real world. Some of the best AR glasses or goggles use a transparent display, like what fighter pilots are used to in their flight helmets.
Transparency is not always ideal, so you may end up with an AR headset that has a small display in the corner of your vision.
Either way, the important feature of AR video is that it allows you to still see your drone. Remember that line-of-sight rule, you can still fly your drone with AR glasses. That’s a huge advantage, however there is only so much you can do on a tiny screen, so you’ll want to choose your glasses carefully.
We keep coming back to the Moverio AR glasses from Epson. Yes, the projector and printer company. They made a tiny projector and shoved it into a pair of fancy glasses, projecting the image in front of each eye in a manner that allows you to see the world around you, and a decent sized transparent screen right in the middle.
In the case of Epson’s approach, so far, they have been working closely with DJI, the Mavic Pro is the machine they like to promote. Bringing the entire DJI GO 4 app interface into a transparent window in your field of view at all times is pretty slick. Of course, it sits in a stationary position, for now, and some of the finer elements are a little tough to see, but you can still see your drone in the background, so you’re legal to fly!
The real key to AR is in it’s very description, there are a few games out already that virtually augment your reality. Seeing virtual elements overlaid on top of your view of the world is what it’s about, and racing around a virtual track, collecting virtual coins, while your drone bounces around in the air is where we’re at today. The Moverio BT-300 are $699 today.
Update May 2018: We just sat with the Moverio team at AUVSI Xponential, watch for our interview video and update on what’s new with the glasses.
Update August 2018: The new Moverio BT-35E are a solid upgrade to the AR glasses line, but now you can connect to almost any drone, not just the DJI Mavic Pro.
VR, starting with the words behind the acronym again, stands for Virtual Reality. I am sure you knew that. The key difference with VR is that you are in an enclosed headset. The experience is second to none, in my opinion, but you cannot see your drone. The FAA allows the use of a spotter, or you can stay indoors.
There are many great VR options out there for drones. We have been rocking the DJI Goggles for our camera focused flights, those of you in the racing world will have something different. The absolute most important factor in a VR headset, as we’ve already mentioned, is latency.
In AR glasses, if your video lags or freezes, you just look at your drone and keep going. In VR goggles, lag can mean you’ve hit the wall and don’t know it yet and a freeze leaves you, for all intents, blind.
The magic of VR goggles is in the screen. Using those DJI Goggles as our example, they emulate a 216 inch display at about 10 feet from your face. That is a large enough screen to cover most of your visual range. It is certainly more than my eyes can focus on, I have to almost strain to see from corner to corner. You’re looking at $349 for the DJI Goggles.
We will be expanding our coverage of the racing scene, more specific, we are going to learn how to race and want you to join us on the ride. We’ll be starting with the Uvify OOri, which has a display built into the remote as well as an AV-out to connect to goggles or another external video display.
One of the first things we’ll attempt to do is connect OOri to our DJI Goggles, go ahead and leave a guess whether or not that results in a crash or success. Stay tuned for this, the Uvify OOri will ship in May 2018.
DJI Digital FPV system
The newer DJI Digital FPV system is a more racer-friendly take on FPV goggles. They are VR goggles that immerse you in the flight, but they do not connect via OcuSync, instead using more common 5.8Ghz signals. The default connection is to the Air Unit that connects to a HD camera, has microSD recording and acts as transmitter for the video, as well as receiver for connecting the dedicated FPV system remote control.
DJI FPV Goggles V2.0
Version 2.0 of DJI’s FPV Goggles are a step above in most ways. First, they’re more affordable, they connect to just as many drones, or more, and they offer a better image with lower latency.
What is better, AR or VR?
The AR experience excels when you use it to put additional flight data in view as you fly. The VR experience is nearly unbeatable for viewing flights, both during and afterward to watch the recorded footage.
It really boils down to what you are looking for out of a headset. Drone racing is not something that many can do from the sidelines, VR goggles allow pilots to see where they are going from the drones perspective. Flying outside without a spotter leaves you just one option, AR. Admitting that you can still see the live view from your drone camera within these smart glasses, it is really quite difficult to focus on the video, what with the real world going on in front of you.
Your imagination really is the limit of your use of either AR or VR technology. It is almost short sighted to say that AR is only to add a bit of info to your flight, same as saying that VR is only for full immersion.
It’s really up to you, tell us, do you prefer AR or VR when you fly your drone.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is only one FAA rule that you need to be aware of for FPV headsets for your drone, that is the line-of-sight rule. When flying outdoors, you must be able to see your drone with your naked eye at all times.
If your face is in a headset, you can’t see your drone. I know you are seeing the world from the perspective of your drone, and in some cases that is even safer than viewing from the sidelines, but that’s the law. To fly outdoors using a headset, you need an observer — a person standing by your side, acting as your eyes to watch the drone and inform you if anything goes wrong.
Configurations differ, but for the most part, yes, your VR or AR headset should act as a secondary display, with the primary signal going to your remote control. You’ll need to do your research on digital signals, but it’s pretty simple stuff with an analog signal.
A digital signal requires a pairing of transmitter and receiver, and can even use authentication to encrypt the signal, meaning you will be limited in how you receive the video from your drone, and the hardware you can use to receive it. For analog signals, things are much simpler.
You can think of an analog signal like a radio station, anything in range that can tune to that frequency is able to display the video. Analog signals are very fast, but are often lower resolution, have shorter range, and are prone to interference. Digital signals have higher latency, but also higher resolution, are more reliable, and cost more.
A digital signal is the best option if you wish to keep your video private.
Your country may require a Ham license, or Amateur Radio License, to operate drone cameras in the 900Hz, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz signal range.
Please be aware of the transmission laws in your area. Here’s the FCC documentation.
Generally speaking, if your drone is FCC cleared, it is safe to operate without a license in the United States. If not, it may require you to get your Ham operator’s license. Those of you that build custom racing drones should take note, a lot of those RC cameras are not FCC cleared.