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Zeiss Thinks Virtual Reality and Drones Are a Match Made in Heaven

Pending approval from the Department of Transportation and the FCC to fly up to heaven's altitude, of course.

Eric Johnson for Re/code

What will convince consumers to buy a virtual reality headset? Is it video games? Movies? Porn?

Carl Zeiss AG has a new answer: Drones!

A new partnership between Zeiss and drone maker DJI lets drone owners (droners?) see what their flying contraptions see by slipping into a VR app. The app displays a live video feed from a 4K DJI-made camera suspended below the chassis of a Phantom 2, Phantom 3 or Inspire 1.

“People needed that one legitimate reason to purchase a VR headset,” said Dave Hodgson, the North American sales boss for Zeiss partner Total3DSolutions. “They’re looking for that one really serious app.”

The CloudlightFPV app, which costs $10 on iOS, is designed with Zeiss’ own VR headset, the $130 VR One, in mind — the dual images are warped to match the optics company’s custom lenses. However, since the VR One is part of the Google Cardboard ecosystem and doesn’t actually talk to the phone, the same app will work in any Cardboard headset; one of the options in the settings turns off the VR One-ready warping.

Hodgson said the app will be especially useful for drone photographers who want to line up a perfect shot but have trouble seeing the screen displaying the camera’s viewpoint while outdoors.

I got a brief demo of the tech integration recently at Re/code’s office. The iPhone 6 was plugged directly into the controller of a DJI Inspire One and then slotted into a VR One headset.

Once inside the headset, I was able to see a live video feed of what the drone camera saw. When I turned my head, it moved accordingly to point in the appropriate direction. However, there was a noticeable lag between when I turned and when the picture updated (less than a second, Hodgson said) that I suspect may churn some stomachs.

An Android version of the app is in the works. Zeiss’ software partners are also developing similar apps for drones made by 3DR and Yuneec.

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