LAS VEGAS—Virtual Reality was a big topic at the 2016 CES. It seemed like folks wearing headsets were everywhere, with entertainment options ranging from kid-friendly video games all the way through adult-only entertainment. I’ve only dabbled with the VR world, but have flown plenty of drones, so when Zeiss asked me to check out its VR One solution along with a DJI Inspire 1$2,549.00 at Amazon I jumped at the chance.
Now, I didn’t get to take the Inspire 1 up into the air. I would have likely destroyed it and injured a few folks in the LVCC’s South Hall had I tried that. But the feed from the camera occupied the entirety of my vision, and moving my head in any direction moved the camera in turn. Telemetry data was overlaid over the feed, although I did have to move my eyes a bit to peek at the top or bottom of the frame to really focus in on that information.
One of my big concerns about flying a drone via the first person perspective is the lack of situational awareness. Sure, I can see through the camera, but that doesn’t tell me if I’m getting dangerously close to an obstacle that’s outside its field of views. Most models (the VR One also works with DJI Phantom quadcopters) have a camera that can only face forward, but the Inspire 1’s camera can face in any direction. You can point it sideways while flying the drone forward, which can be a bit disorienting if you’re only able to see through the lens.
A quick tap of a button on the headset switches the field of view to your phone’s rear camera. It’s not nearly as good as looking through your own eyes—the field of most cell phone cameras is a bit wider than your field of vision, so not only will the drone appear smaller than it would by eye alone, your eyes will give you a clearer view of your aircraft.
But flying with goggles does solve one of the big issues with using a phone clamped to a remote control to control the camera view. Even with brightness set to its maximum, sun glare can hinder your view. For some pilots, that’s a good enough reason to opt for goggles. And, if you do use a pro model like the Inspire 1, you can have one operator flying the aircraft and a second person controlling the camera.
As for the quality of the experience, the Zeiss VR One is a pleasant experience. The headset itself is comfortable, with deep foam padding between its plastic frame and your forehead. The adjustable headband that secures the device to your noggin is also comfortable—it’s padded and quite wide.
There are no diopters to adjust. The headset accommodates prescription eyeglasses. If you normally wear them to see details up close, keep them on. The lenses are fixed as well. They’re wide, with a flat design, so your eyes don’t need to be placed dead center for optimal viewing. Because of this there’s no need for them to move apart or closer together to compensate for varying IPD (interpupillary distance).
The VR One works with a cell phone display, just likeGoogle Cardboard, but there are no plastic optics here. The glass lenses take advantage of the quality of modern smartphone displays. I tested the VR One with an iPhone 6s$649.00 at Apple Store and saw some pixelation due to the intense magnification of the screen, but it’s barely noticeable when using a device with a higher pixel density like the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The VR One isn’t only for drones. It’s compatible with any number of VR apps available in the Google Play and Apple iOS store. It sells for about $120, but that price doesn’t include a smartphone mounting tray. Those sell for about $13 each. Trays for the iPhone 6 and 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S5$239.66 at Pricefalls.com, and Samsung Galaxy S6 are currently available.
For more, check out shots of a drone rodeo we attended at CES in the slideshow above.