Product review: Epson Moverio BT-300 Smart Glasses
Drones have the ability to fly miles away from their operators, but the FAA requires that pilots restrict flights to within a visual line of sight. There’s a simple reason for this. You can’t see and avoid an airplane or helicopter that enters your operating area if you can’t see your drone and take quick countermeasures. The FAA defines visual line of sight as the ability to see your drone “with vision that is unaided by any device besides corrective lenses.” This means that a single operator, without the assistance of a second visual observer, can’t use FPV (first-person view) goggles that prevent them from seeing their drone while flying. This was the impetus behind Epson Moverio BT-300 smart glasses, a technology that gives you a simultaneous FPV while retaining your line of sight.
Unlike DJI Goggles and other fully enclosed, bulky visual systems, the Moverio BT-300 resembles a pair of slim, futuristic eyeglasses. They’re lightweight and, thanks to a number of included accessories, easy to put on and start using. Do you wear glasses? That’s not an issue thanks to a clip-on nose bridge that allows the Moverio glasses to co-exist peacefully with your prescription eyewear. A lens shade insert is also included to help tame bright skies. The Moverio smart glasses attach to a handheld controller, and both fit into a compact carrying case included with the unit.
NAVIGATING THE CONTROLLER
The Epson Moverio glasses plug into a palm-sized controller that has a few buttons and a touch-sensitive area. Use the touch pad to navigate a cursor to launch apps, interact with settings, and more. The controller is the computer accessory to the glasses, allowing you to launch a number of apps certified to work with the glasses. To keep this experience simple, think of it this way: The glasses replace your smartphone or tablet as the display device while the controller functions let you interact with that display.
Plug the Moverio glasses into the controller and turn it on, then don the glasses and start experiencing the benefits of augmented reality (AR). After a brief startup process, your view of the world in front of you is supplemented by a transparent app screen that is similar to what you might see on an iPad. This is the Si-OLED transparent, binocular display built into the glasses. This is also where you begin to introduce your eyes to seeing two things at once. Launching the DJI Go 4 app adds the view from your drone’s camera in a transparent image that still allows you to see the world in front of you. Give yourself time to practice shifting focus between the physical world in front of you and the transparent screen overlayed on it. In my experience, it takes only a few moments for your brain to get used to toggling between these two views.
FLYING WITH MOVERIO
There’s not much of a learning curve to flying a drone with the Moverio. You’re basically using the glasses and controller as a replacement for a smartphone or tablet. There is, however, an adjustment to flying with the Moverio that’s worth noting. This adjustment refers to learning to split your attention between the two views presented.
A perfect example is operating your drone low to the ground, perhaps capturing a classic scene of swiftly moving over terrain as you accelerate and climb upward. This was one of those moments where I found that dividing my attention between the fast-paced view from the drone camera and simultaneously keeping an eye on my drone so it didn’t hit the ground in front of me was challenging—almost disorienting for a moment. The solution is simple: Give yourself time to get used to flying with the Moverio glasses and ease your way into more complicated, higher-risk maneuvers.
I found that I needed to keep the drone a little closer than usual because it was increasingly difficult to keep an eye on the drone when operating it near the edge of visual line of sight. Keeping track of a small dot in the sky with a superimposed live drone view is challenging.
Finally, navigating the DJI Go 4 app using the Moverio’s controller felt a little clumsy and slow compared to using a smartphone or tablet display. This slowdown in your interaction with DJI Go during flight may prove annoying to advanced users who are accustomed to moving quickly around the DJI Go interface to tweak photography and drone flight settings.
The Moverio delivers on its promise to give you the best of both worlds: the ability to maintain the legal requirement of physically seeing your drone while using the DJI Go app to command your camera in the sky. While transparent, the superimposed camera view from your drone is clear enough to allow you to compose photographs and video. It’s a fascinating experience to have both scenes in your field of vision, and it opens up possibilities for single operators who previously had to jockey between heads-down time on their tablets to compose a photograph and looking back into the sky to re-acquire the physical position of the drone.
With up to six hours of battery life, a fully-charged Moverio controller will likely still be running when you’ve used up your last drone battery. The roughly $650 price tag is steep and may lead some purchasers to the DJI Goggles, available at half the cost. Unlike the Moverio, however, using the fully enclosed goggle system requires you to have a visual observer to meet the line-of-sight requirement.
The Moverio represents a significant step forward in state-of-the-art AR hardware that increases the situational awareness of solo drone pilots and can, as a result, make those flights safer. The sleek design of the glasses has the advantage over other FPV options on the market.