Home-bound man uses drone and Google Glass to experience flight

The Parrot AR drone is designed to be operated by mobile or tablet operating systems. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Stuart Turner is hoping he’ll soon be able to see the more of the world from his bedroom. The quadriplegic computer expert is helping to develop technology that will open up new vistas for those unable to travel by projecting what he calls “the extensible self”.

Flying a camera-mounted drone by moving his head and eyes using Google Glass, Turner is working with scientists at Brown University, in Rhode Island, to develop the project – although the sightseeing has still to leave the campus.

Turner, 36, from Todmorden, west Yorkshire, had to drop out of university after being diagnosed with spina bifida, tethered spinal cord syndrome and chiari malformation. He has already been using robots and Wi-Fi to experience life in other countries, but by employing a Parrot AR drone, the robotics expert is hoping to go further.

“Drones open up doors that would otherwise be there, helping to expand my world from my house to anywhere in the world with Wi-Fi,” said Turner.

“I’m hoping to be able to fly faster, further, higher with a greater degree of control. I also – and this is probably the main aim – want to experience first-person flight, which will truly liberate me from this wheelchair in a way that isn’t really possible at the moment. “I would actually be flying without leaving my wheelchair”, Turner added.

“There’s no way I could travel at high speed 20 metres into the air without a drone. I have to be very precise with my head movements and hope there aren’t any trees nearby.”

Turner demonstrated an earlier part of the project to the recent Wired conference in London, explaining how using robots to go where he couldn’t, helped make him “feel as if I am reaching out into the world”. The drone was not meant specifically for disabled people but he was finding ways in which he could use it himself, Turner said at the time.

On Tuesday, he said: “For every killer drone you show me, I can show you a drone that is saving lives all around the world. If I can help change the public view on drones, that would be great and I’d be happy to do it. They expand my universe in a way that I would never be able to do using my physical self.”

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