First look: DJI's Phantom 4 drone leverages Apple devices for new advanced autopilot modes

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in iPhone
DJI's new Phantom 4 flying camera offers the ability to take human piloting out of the equation entirely, allowing users to select a person, object, animal or otherwise on their iPhone or iPad, and have the drone automatically follow and film while avoiding obstacles.




DJI held a media event in Manhattan on Tuesday to unveil the next-generation Phantom, priced at $1,399 and launching exclusively through the company and Apple this month. AppleInsider was there for the presentation, which included an obstacle course, of sorts, intended to showcase the autopilot, auto-follow and object avoidance capabilities of the Phantom 4.

To allow more room to show off the Phantom 4 in flight, attendees were located on the second floor balcony section of Terminal 5, a New York venue usually used for concerts. Looking down at the stage from above, DJI gave the typical keynote requisites, including a video presentation of gorgeous aerial footage shot from around the world on the new Phantom 4.

But the most interesting part of the demo was when a Phantom 4 took flight within the venue itself. It's important to note that there was no GPS signal available within the building, meaning the drone's live autopilot demonstration was said to be done entirely with the device's onboard sensors -- including two cameras up front for obstacle avoidance, and two ultrasonic sensors underneath for positioning.




On the ground floor, a woman playing the role of a jogger came out for the presentation, while a pilot selected her as the subject via DJI's iPad app. The Phantom 4 took flight and followed the jogger around, while other participants attempted to thwart the Phantom 4 with distractions and obstacles.

DJI's tight integration with Apple devices plays a key role in the autopilot and auto-follow capabilities of the Phantom 4. Watching a live feed from the drone, users can select a subject with their fingertips on an iPhone or iPad, highlighting whatever they want the Phantom to automatically film and follow.

DJI says its advanced algorithms allow the Phantom 4 to intelligently fix on and follow a moving object without the need to scan it from every direction.

In fact, the new autopilot modes make it possible to take off, fly and film with the Phantom 4 using an iPhone or iPad entirely, without even touching the thumbsticks on the drone's physical controller.




In the live demonstration, the jogger was followed around the venue while the Phantom 4 avoided signs and objects that were waved in front of it. Other people also moved around, such as a man doing laps on roller skates, simulating the kinds of real-world distractions that could potentially confuse the Phantom 4's auto-follow mode. In this demonstration, everything worked seamlessly.

While the live flight focused on a person, prerecorded footage also showed larger subjects -- including a rowboat full of people -- being followed and filmed with breathtaking aerial footage.

DJI also pulled back the curtain on their promotional video by bringing to the stage its creative director, Sheldon Schwartz, who shot the footage featured in the keynote. Schwartz was accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage that showed using an Apple iPad to control the Phantom 4 and view live footage on location.




In one clip, Schwartz showed how the Phantom 4 on autopilot was following a biker down a mountainside. At some point, the drone encountered a large tree and didn't have a safe way to avoid it. The Phantom 4 simply stopped and hovered in place, avoiding a potentially costly crash.

A new "sport" mode also allows the Phantom 4 to travel at up to 45 miles per hour. This was showcased with downhill longboarders who were automatically followed and breakneck speeds.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well the Phantom 4's obstacle avoidance, autopilot and auto-follow capabilities will work in real-life daily use. But at $1,399, it's nice to know that your pricey new toy is smarter than ever, and will automatically take steps on its own to prevent a high-cost accident.

Preorders for the Phantom 4 are underway now ahead of a March 15 launch. The device will be exclusive to DJI and Apple retail stores for this month's launch.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    Lets hope it's collision avoidance software is better than that on Googles self driving car. 
    badmonk
  • Reply 2 of 11
    This is probably a great feature somewhere other than cold climates. While the Phantom itself can operate fully in temps as cold as 0 degrees (and colder, from what I've read on drone forums but never tried myself), an iPhone or iPad tends to shut off after 10 minutes of flight or so in anything below 40 degrees. After that, forget about smart features requiring an attached device, because it's all joysticks and line of sight. I can only assume it's some kind of software safeguard that is set off when the device senses a high drain at cold temps, because it flashes a low battery icon before just powering off, and won't turn back on again until you plug it into a wall charger. The first two times this happened, I thought it was just a low battery, but the third time it happened after charging it to 100%. 
  • Reply 3 of 11
    The idea of a drone capable of following an object without control from the owner/operator scares the sh*t out of me especially knowing that it's against the law to forcibly disable the drone if you're the subject and not the operator.
    There's a car commercial where several workers leave a building after work and are followed by drones with the main subject running to the advertised car. I think most people who watched this commercial felt a pang of fear but recognized that this possibility was far off into the future. Well not anymore.
    At this point the future security and breach of privacy issues will only become more pronounced.
  • Reply 4 of 11
    tenlytenly Posts: 707member
    I want it.  I Want It!  I WANT IT!!!
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 5 of 11
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,328member
    The idea of a drone capable of following an object without control from the owner/operator scares the sh*t out of me especially knowing that it's against the law to forcibly disable the drone if you're the subject and not the operator.
    There's a car commercial where several workers leave a building after work and are followed by drones with the main subject running to the advertised car. I think most people who watched this commercial felt a pang of fear but recognized that this possibility was far off into the future. Well not anymore.
    At this point the future security and breach of privacy issues will only become more pronounced.
    Really - this is a semi-automated, image tracking, mobile camera platform, that sounds like a swarm of beens, has a linger time of less than 30 minutes, and a top speed of around 35 mph. In terms of technology the only thing new is the fine flight control of the camera platform. If someone wants to track you then they can do it themselves far better, far more unobtrusively, and for much longer, than this thing can. You sound completely paranoid, which doens't, of course, mean that they are not out to get you.
  • Reply 6 of 11
    So, they created a great device for stalkers. And just to make sure, they did the demo with a female jogger?
    Are they stupid or just pretending?
    This device should be illegal on public grounds.
  • Reply 7 of 11
    tenlytenly Posts: 707member
    jfgilbert said:
    So, they created a great device for stalkers. And just to make sure, they did the demo with a female jogger?
    Are they stupid or just pretending?
    This device should be illegal on public grounds.
    Seriously?  There are dozens, if not hundreds of cheaper, easier and far more effective ways to stalk someone.  

    It will be banned from crowded and/or built up areas like all other drones - but that will be because of safety concerns - not stalking concerns.

    There's no reason that everybody should be banned from using these to take cool wedding photos in a park because a few irresponsible owners might try to snap a few bikini pictures at the beach.  There are existing laws on the book that can be used to charge those people.  If they ban these drones for stalking concerns, they might as well go ahead and ban ALL cameras!
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 8 of 11
    Looking forward to AI's review of this one! I've just started entertaining the possibility of buying one.
  • Reply 9 of 11
    CuJoYYCCuJoYYC Posts: 24member
    "… automatically follow and film …"

    Is anyone still using film?
  • Reply 10 of 11
    Yep, my wallet hit the screen when DJI announced the Phantom 4. I had been waiting to see what the new Phantom would be like while enjoying my Phantom 2 Vision+. DJI exceeded my expectations on all levels. Now let's hope they can continue to improve their customer service and quality control. DJI has morphed from a somewhat shady Chinese drone maker into the dominant player in the world wide drone market and is rapidly becoming the technology leader as well. The P4 not only has great features, it has a really great design. They have aspirations to build truly autonomous consumer friendly smart drones that automatically follow the FAA rules. The P4 is a big step towards that goal.
  • Reply 11 of 11
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,473member
    jfgilbert said:
    So, they created a great device for stalkers. And just to make sure, they did the demo with a female jogger?
    Are they stupid or just pretending?
    This device should be illegal on public grounds.
    There is no expectation of privacy in a public place (that's the law).   I don't understand the difference between a drone following someone and a person following someone.   What if I were running on the same path as this jogger, with or without a camera?   What if I were standing on a high hill looking down with a telephoto lens at joggers?   

    Having said that, there are paranoid people who will object to such use of drones and there will be localities who will seek to ban them, just as some places have sought to ban photography in kid's playgrounds, etc.    And I'll admit that if it was obvious that a drone was following me, I would find that quite annoying and an invasion of my privacy, even in a public place.   

    And while I would love to have one of these to capture my grandkids biking, skating, etc., in spite of all the hype and apparent sales, I have never actually seen one in use in my daily travels.   My big local park is adjacent to an airport, so such devices would probably be banned there as well, even though by the time the planes fly over the park, they're far higher than 500 feet.    There's a 226 foot tower in the park so it seems to me that as long as the drones stayed lower than 226 feet, it would be perfectly safe from the standpoint of interfering with aircraft, but I suspect they'll be banned anyway.    A lot of wedding photography takes place in the park and while I haven't seen anyone use drones yet, I suspect to see them in the future (if they're not banned).    Every bride is going to want that big sweeping aerial shot of the wedding party that zooms in and captures the bride and groom.   

    IMO, the biggest problem with these drones might be in popular tourist locations like the national parks, where if 50 people show up with drones in the same general area, that could be incredibly annoying and interfere with the experience, even aside from the potential safety issues.    I would also expect that in some areas of this country, it will become popular to shoot these drones down.   

    In the end, this might be a niche application for which there are already far too many manufacturers to serve a relatively small market.    At the last PhotoPlus show I attended in NYC, there had to be about ten different manufacturers showing drones.   


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