The shapes and sizes of drones have changed a lot in recent times, but most serious quadcopters are still controlled by way of a dual-joystick controller (autonomous flyers notwithstanding). A new crowdfunding campaign is coming at it from a different angle, by developing a drone that can be flown with a single hand using a stick and thumb ring.
It is true that getting up to speed as a drone pilot using joystick controllers can take some time. The team behind Shift is aiming to give novices an easier way to earn their wings through what it claims is a more intuitive way to fly.
The drone itself has a pretty standard and respectable enough list of specs. It carries a 4K camera that shoots 13-megapixel stills, 8 GB of onboard memory and even a claimed 30 minutes of flight time.
But the controller is something we haven’t seen before. It is basically a short fat stick that you hold in one hand and slide your thumb through a ring on top. By moving your thumb around you can then guide the drone through the air: push left and the drone flies left, push forward and the drone flies forward and move up to have the drone increase its altitude. There is also separate toggle on the front that can be used to change the drone’s orientation with your index finger.
This does sound like a simpler way to control a drone, but we’d be interested to see how well it works in practice. Our encounters with drones controlled via smartphones and watches quickly reminded us how reliable joysticks are once you get a handle on them, and perhaps there is a reason they have remained the controllers of choice for so long.
We’d also question the value of being able to fly one-handed, which is billed as Shift’s big advantage. Piloting a drone can take some concentration, so trying to multitask and make phone calls or take a sip of coffee at the same time might just be a recipe for a busted aircraft.
With that said, more than 140 backers have jumped onboard Shift’s Kickstarter campaign to pledge more than US$50,000 already, so clearly there is some interest in the approach.
The Shift controller is said to be compatible with some already existing drones including models from Syma and WLtoys, and can be pre-ordered with a camera-less mini-drone thrown in for an early pledge of $89, while there is also a version where the ring is wireless and detached from the controller at the same price point. The complete Shift drone and controller together are available for a pledge of $790. The company hopes to ship in May 2017 if all goes to plan.