MotionPilot is a young EPFL startup developing a FPV drone guided by an intuitive controller. We recently met the team for a flight session. As an unexperimented drone pilot, my first reaction was “What the heck?” when I realized I could actually make the drone fly safely. Interview with Timothée Peter, Co-Founder and leader of the project.
Arthur Gay (Software), Timothée Peter, Thibaut Paschal (Hardware)
Arthur: Timothée, what is MotionPilot ?
Timothée: MotionPilot aims to revolutionize the way we interact with drones. Current remote controls have kept the same architecture developed half a century ago. The controls are unintuitive, complex and don’t provide any flight sensation. With our remote control we offer a unique flight experience in a compact, fun and intuitive product. Our product is aimed at the First Person View (FPV) drone market where people pilot drones to experience flight.
A : How did the idea spark? How did it begin?
T: The project was in the back of our head for quite some time. The original idea was to pilot a drone simply with hand movements. Being inspired by a PhD student’s master project, we decided to start developing our product. Soon, we realized that haptic feeling would add a dimension to the human-machine interaction. To this day, we have focused our strength to develop the best product we can.
We aim to make the first person view/immersion drone market more accessible to new users. Our product would create a more intuitive and enjoyable experience of flight than current controllers on the market.
Timothée Peter (white shirt) explaning to a test pilot (FPV headset) how to control the drone, june 2017.
At the same time, Thibaut Paschal (right) is catching user feedback to improve their product.
Another test pilot (right). The MotionPilot team didn’t even explain him how to control the drone.
Guess what ? He crashed the drone 0 times. 0.
A : Your team won CTI and Start Lausanne (2016) awards and you reached the ICAN 2nd place. You are now on your way to the third stage of VentureKick. Where do you see yourselves one year from now?
T: We want to focus on our product and on our sales. In one year, I hope we’ll have sold our preproduction product and that our industrialized product is ready to enter the market.
A : Your hardware and software solutions seem highly technical. Are you compatible with others drones? If a customer has a DJI drone, could he for instance use your product?
T: Initially our product will be compatible with all drones that are accepting additional radio receivers. In a second time, we will partner with other drone companies to offer compatible solutions.
Timothée Peter (Left) and Thibaut Paschal (Right).
The MotionPilot team is continuously testing new contollers and configurations, even during the cold winter months.
A : You are at the moment studying at the EPFL in Microtechnics. Where and how does your team get the additional missing skills and knowledge to build what you want?
T: There is a lot of help around EPFL. We could get some advice from people around the campus. We also participated to the CTI entrepreneurship course (toolkit for startups) which gave us valuable insights into business.
Prototype for the hand controller. It looks like a simple joystick with a « RT Xbox button ». Quite intuitive for any occasional gamer. According to the author, the flight sensations are « between skiing and driving a car ».
A : We see many startups trying to expand fast with additional members from early stages, but you seem different. Do you want to master your product before scaling up?
T: We think a startup should expand only if it is an extreme necessity. For us, working with additional people would take time and slow down the development process.
We’re actually making « home made » products, we work at our own flats. Working in a place where you feel comfortable and where you have all the tools you need is extremely important.
Yes, that’s the proof that MotionPilot products are really « Home made ».
A : EPFL can be quite challenging sometimes. How difficult is it to ask a student team to spend their free time working on MotionPilot?
T: We are motivated by our project, so we see MotionPilot more as an opportunity than an additional workload. Of course, it is sometimes difficult to work on our courses and our project at the same time but we have still been able to combine both pretty well until now.
A : Are you planning to work with Flyability or senseFly ?
T: Although our market is consumer-focused whereas they do products for professionals, we stay close to them and take into account their precious advices in term of technical development and business knowledge.
A : Is MotionPilot still running with the money from challenges? Are you planning on asking lucky investors to contribute in the near future?
T: Yes, we are. But as we will get closer to our industrialization and commercialization phase, we will need additional contributions from investors. We expect this to be at the end of the year. We plan on selling our initial preproduction unit at the end of summer 2017.
Arthur Baetens, July 2017
Last modified: 3 juillet 2017