Field Test: Flying a Mavic Pro With Epson’s Moverio BT-300FPV AR Glasses

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One of the trickiest parts of flying a drone is trying to look in two directions at once. Looking up at the drone gives you a good sense of where it is. But you need to look down to see either its location on the map or a view from its camera. For high-end productions, that often means two operators. But for hobbyists and budget-minded efforts, it’d be great to have a simpler solution.

That’s where Epson’s Moverio BT-300FPV AR glasses come in. A customized version of the standard BT-300, they give you a see-through view of whatever would normally be on your phone’s display while you are flying. That way, you can monitor the drone without looking down.

Getting the Moverio Up and Running

The Moverio definitely adds some complexity to getting aloftThe Moverio BT-300FPV is an Android device that takes the place of your smartphone you’d normally use to control your drone. Typically, you’d attach it to your controller in a similar way–although its unique shape means you’ll need to get a 3D printed adapter to use it with a Mavic Pro, for example. It runs a fork of Android that is not Google Play-compatible, so you’ll be limited to using apps that Epson provides or that you can figure out how to sideload or get through the Amazon appstore. For flying the Mavic Pro, Epson provides DJI GO 4.

Once you have the Moverio control unit clamped into your Mavic’s controller, you plug it in to the controller the same way you would your smartphone, and attach the glasses with another (provided) cable. After that, you operate the Moverio very much like you would your phone–except that instead of having a touch screen, you need to use the touchpad and control ring on its control unit instead. The glasses display whatever would normally be on your phone screen. Of course, for those used to iOS, the switch to an Android device may be an issue also.

The Payoff: You Almost Feel Like You’re Flying!

If you’ve only flown a drone with your eyes or with a video feed to a phone or tablet, first-person-view (FPV) flying is a different and more immersive experience. For pure immersion, VR goggles like the Cinemizer or DJI’s own Goggles can’t be beat. However, since I was flying solo, my experience with the Cinemizer VR headset was marred by having to keep removing the goggles to work with the drone or use the app.

The DJI Goggles provide a more integrated solution. But obviously you still can’t see anything other than what is in the headset, which I should probably mention also means that you automatically aren’t following line-of-sight guidelines. Moverio gives you much of the same feeling of immersion, but without the same limitations.

For flying in bright light, the FPV version of the Moverio comes with a dark shade, which is surprisingly effective. I found the image much easier to view than standing in similar light with a smartphone or even a tablet. I haven’t gotten a chance to compare it with DJI’s own super-bright CrystalSky display, though. It’s possible to use the Moverio with glasses, but you can also get custom prescription inserts or higher-quality dark shades from Rochester Optical. Of more concern to me is the lack of an IPD (Inter-Pupillary Distance) adjustment, which is found on many other HMDs. In my case, neither eye could see the entire phone display, no matter how I wrestled the glasses around on my head. That meant the edges of the display never seemed sharp. With my Rift, that’s addressed by increasing the IPD, but the IPD of the Moverio is fixed.

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A Work in Progress

So far, the only supported flight application for the Moverio is DJI’s own GO app, so those using Litchi or other 3rd party apps for automated flight are out of luck. That’s a real shame as programmed FPV flying is both immersive and relaxing. Also, current apps are designed to be operated with a true touchscreen, not with the trackpad and control ring of the Moverio. In particular I found scrolling (using two fingers) glitchy, as often the device thought I was trying to click on the screen. Epson has told me they are working to get apps developed that will be designed to be used with the Moverio, but nothing specific has been announced yet. It’d also be nice to have a better system for mounting the Moverio controller to the Mavic remote, instead of relying on fiddling with a pair of custom-made jigs.

What’s Needed in an HMD for Drone Flying

DJI Goggles offer quite a different experienceFirst, I’m pretty convinced that AR will be the way to go for most of us. It provides the most flexible solution for flying a Mavic Pro and other drones. It is the easiest to get started with. Sure, for FPV racing or some dedicated flyers, VR is more immersive, but I think that will be more of a niche.

Second, I’d like to have an HMD that works with my existing phone and tablet. That way it has full access to Google Maps and satellite data for a better flying experience. Hopefully that would mean it could also be used with a variety of apps, and could cost a lot less than the current $800.

Third, it would have some HMD-optimized apps, so that you’re not trying to pretend you’re using a phone touch screen when you don’t have one. And finally, while the current visual experience on the Moverio BT-300 is quite good, I’d like a little larger field of view and an IPD adjustment, so I could see the entire display easily.

Conclusion

At $800, this is an expensive addition to a $1,000 drone. If you don’t fly a lot, it probably doesn’t make sense, although if you can borrow a pair, at least you can get a sense for the experience. If you’re using your drone to capture serious video using an app like Litchi, then at least for now it won’t do you any good. If that changes, I think I’d be happy to use a Moverio instead of a tablet while running my pre-programmed flights.

Now read: Best drone picks for every budget

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