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New DJI drone offers obstacle avoidance, reduces learning curve

Rich Hein | March 2, 2016
DJI had a huge consumer hit with the Phantom 3 series of drones, and it’s looking to keep the momentum going with the announcement of the Phantom 4.

DJI and competitors like Yuneec and 3DR have taken aerial photography to new levels over the past two years with prosumer drones. In fact, if you followed CES 2016 coverage, you saw drones in all shapes, configurations and sizes. DJI has been leading the pack of drone manufacturers, releasing the Phantom 3 last year to much fanfare. Looking to take its commanding lead to next heights, DJI yesterday announced the Phantom 4.

DJI pushing into the enterprise startup field

According to Re/code, DJI is pushing into the enterprise by offering a software developer kit that helps programmers create apps like Hivemapper, which Re/code describes as "Waze for drones." Hivemapper is reportedly working with Accel Partners to offer funding for startups that build on the DJI drone platform.

You don't know how to fly a drone or build an RC from the ground up? No problem. What makes these drones so popular is that the systems are integrated and are designed to work out of the box and, most importantly, you don't need to know how to fly a drone. That's not to say there is no learning curve. There are preflight checklists, regular maintenance (e.g., I recently discovered a whining motor on my quadcopter, something that if left unchecked would likely bring down it down midflight) and apps to familiarize yourself with. However, all the hard work has been done and you can go off on your merry way and start flying. Something true R/C flying enthusiasts seem to take issue with.

So what makes the Phantom 4 unique? The DJI also offers the following new features.

Obstacle Sensing System

The company is building off of a great platform with the Phantom 3, but the Phantom 4 offers something that has been eluding autonomous vehicles of all types. The newest Phantom has an obstacle-avoidance system built-in. This unit uses five cameras to "see" in real-time. If you are flying into a rock face, for example, it should brake appropriately, according to DJI. This should be good news to drone enthusiasts. If your "return to home" feature is activated, your drone should be able to avoid any obstacles in its return path. According to the press release, the unit uses two cameras on the bottom, two on the top and the gimbaled camera that looks forward. All of these feeds are run through the DJI software to build a 3D model of the drone's surroundings. And like the anti-skid technology in modern cars, you can toggle this feature on and off.


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