How a Drone Add-On Will Enable Your Drone to See The Environment – with Dor Abuhasira

Percepto board

 

Tell us about yourself and your background, your company, and your role there.

 

My name is Dor Abuhasira. About 2 years ago, I was working as an electrical engineer at ECI, a large networking infrastructure player in the world of telcos, and my best friend Raiv Raz was working at one of the world’s largest defense drone manufacturers, IAI. On a well needed vacation we headed up to the Austrian Alps for a snowboard vacation. We equipped ourselves with a brand new GoPro hero 3+ and headed to the slopes. The videos we filmed that day were good, but still something was missing.


At the end of this vacation we set out on creating a tool that would complete the GoPro experience. After months of endless investigations, debates and consulting, we came to the conclusion that a drone using computer vision is the only thing that will be able to give you the ultimate GoPro experience.

 

At the time I was doing my Master’s degree in computer vision together with another friend, Sagi Blonder. Since Sagi was super excited about the idea of creating “eyes” for drones and I was super excited to have the best engineer/hacker I know join our mission, we all teamed up and created Percepto.

Percepto is a drone add-on…

What is Percepto and what problem is it solving?

 

As any startup does, we faced and continue to face many technical and business challenges. Most importantly we discovered that while we were looking to enable drone users to become Hollywood grade photographers (consumer market), 90% of the work we were doing was applicable to all drone computer vision applications. Obstacle avoidance, urban/indoor navigation, spotting objects, tracking objects, human gesture control and so many more new and exciting drone features were suddenly possible when we enabled drones to see and understand their environment using computer vision.

Percepto
Percepto

 

Percepto is a drone add-on, meaning it’s a device (about the size of a deck of cards) and a small camera that you connect to your existing drone and immediately enables it with endless new functionalities created by us as well as our community. We will ship Percepto with a few applications, including:

 

The “director” app

Using your smartphone, mark any object and have the drone follow it, circle it or create any filming maneuver you desire with a click of a button.

Since Percepto works onboard and in high rates, it is very responsive and can create filming maneuvers in higher speeds and smoothness than today’s GPS based features. We are constantly working with professional aerial photographers to improve Percepto’s filming capabilities. There is also a mode where Percepto controls the gimbal alone, leaving the drone control in your hands.

 

“Enrich” – OSD (On Screen Dispaly) app

A customizable heads up display, driven by our computer vision algorithms which can produce smart alerts such as obstacle advisory, object searching or even locations of additional Percepto powered drones flying nearby (dogfights, anyone?).

 

Percepto and the drone developer community we are building will constantly update with applications. So, if you own a Percepto, you will be able to experience any new exciting application released.

First vision only based flight - may 2014 — with Dor Abuhasira, Raviv Raz, Sagi Blonder and Chen Blonder.
First vision only based flight – may 2014 — with Dor Abuhasira, Raviv Raz, Sagi Blonder and Chen Blonder.

 

How is Percepto different from other products on the market and how does it control the drone?  Can anyone build on top of your hardware or integrate with what you have?

 

We are trying to make advanced drone applications development as intuitive as app development for iOS or Android. However, creating computer vision applications is a long process of multi-layer development. Say you want to create a drone application that spots landing pads, follows a snowboarder or just finds a parking spot. You need computer vision optimized hardware, the right imaging equipment, a layer of algorithms to analyze and map the image, a layer for safety and common actions and one to control the drone. Only then can you create the last layer that actually delivers the functionality. The amount of resources needed to create all of this makes no sense for just one product, so we’ve created it for all of them.

 

Using Percepto, developers can now easily create new types of applications for consumers and businesses. Rather than years, applications can now be developed in just a couple of months. Then, anybody who installs Percepto on their drone can use those apps.

Percepto Diagram
Percepto Diagram

 

What does it take to install Percepto?

 

For physical mounting we supply a kit with several mounting options. The most versatile is a glue mount that connects to any flat plate in the bottom of your drone. But we also supply a DJI Phantom specific mount and you can also see the camera Gimbal mount and the tiny camera in the picture on the right.

 

The diagram above demonstrates how Percepto is connected. All the wires are included in our kit and connecting them is just a matter of following few simple instructions.

 

What has been the biggest challenge in getting Percepto off the ground?

 

As I mentioned above, when we tried to implement a single computer vision application we faced endless issues concerning the hardware, the camera, firmware adjustments and many other small but time consuming issues. Adding to the fact that part of our software debugging was done on a flying robot, it seemed like the amount of work required for our product would require much more resources than we had.

 

When we realized other drone developers were facing the same problems we were in connection to completely different applications, we pivoted into what Percept is today – an open platform that solves most drone developer’s issues.

…drones are one of the biggest paradigm changes of our lifetime.

Where do you see drones and drone technology in the future? Give an example of a real-world application of drone technology that you envision.

 

I am not the first to say it, but drones are one of the biggest paradigm changes of our lifetime. They will be as big of a revolution as cars were at the turn of the last century, and applicable across most industries. There are probably two areas which will be affected most dramatically in the immediate future:

 

Commercial drones – I see drones becoming a standard working tool for various industries’ construction sites (monitoring), and first responders will be pioneering commercial drones usage. Security, agriculture and even insurance will not be far behind. Betting on schedule is difficult since regulation plays a crucial role here but I believe 2015 will be the year where we will finally see heavy industry beginning real drone usage for monitoring purposes.

 

Consumer drones – Aerial filming will remain the main use case for consumer drones. I expect drone filming to become much better and easier with new unique solutions like the one we are offering as well as the industry next generation drones.

I also predict consumer drones to intermix with another booming area – “wearables.” In the next 2-3 years wearable devices will come equipped with micro drones released from our arms to take a selfie and able to come back by themselves.

In any case, the drone future is something to look forward to!

Percepto on a Phantom
Percepto on a Phantom

 

Do you own or fly any drones? What is your favorite drone to fly and why?

 

Of course I fly drones. We have many DIY drones as well as a Phantom, an IRIS+ and several other RTF drones. My favorite by far are the drones we built ourselves and specifically our first POC drone. It’s a really ugly looking drone with tons of wires but after building and nurturing it for over a year I feel an unbreakable bond with it.

 

Thank you so much for your insights. Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you would like to share?

 

I just want to add that personally I believe that drones are still a fertile ground for many new ventures and the industry presents great opportunities for innovation these days. I can’t wait to see where the drone industry will be in 2-3 years.

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Elizabeth Ciobanu

I cover breaking news in the drone industry, interview experts in the field to learn from them for myself, and to help spread the love of drones.

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