The commercial drone industry is growing so quickly that developments can be hard to keep track of. At the end of 2012, the very first Phantom drone was released. In response, drone producers started cranking out more ready-to-fly, consumer-friendly drones and fewer DIY drones. It’s now been 4 years, and the market has certainly shifted. Today, most consumer drones come pre-equipped with HD cameras, gimbals, video downlink systems, and other fancy features. Let’s take a look at a few significant developments in the commercial drone industry that have taken place over the past year.
1. Lighter, Faster, Longer
Modern drones are lighter and faster than before, and videographers are happy about it. In just one year, consumer drones got more than 20% faster. Such speeds allow pilots to more effectively shoot athletes, animals, cars, and other fast moving objects. For example, last year it wouldn’t have been possible with Yuneec’s Typhoon 4K, with a max speed of 8m/s (28 km/h). But the Phantom 4 at top speed clocks in at 72km/h, so following a car is not a problem at all.
Flight times have slightly improved as well, but manufacturers like DJI, Yuneec and Autel keep advertising flight times that are longer than what most users get in the field.
4k is everywhere now, and the drone industry has adapted accordingly. The 3DR solo equipped with a GoPro Hero 4, the Yuneec Typhoon 4K, the Typhoon H, DJI’s Inspire 1, and DJI’s Phantom 3 and 4 series all shoot in 4k. Also, a major aerial camera breakthrough came when DJI brought the Micro4/3 sensor to the sky. The new Zenmuse X5 gimbal-camera quickly become a top choice for professionals. Compatible with the Inspire 1, the X5 has made getting high quality footage possible without having to carry, transport, and set up heavy hexacopters. However, some companies like Xiaomi are still making drones with 1080p cameras.
3. VR Goggles and 360 Video
FPV goggles have been around for a few years, but not many people used them because they were relatively expensive. With VR goggles, all you need to fly FPV is your phone and software like Litchi, making the setup much cheaper. Using your mobile device’s gyroscope, you can even control gimbal pitch by simply bowing and rising your head.
360 cameras have also become popular this year. Before, creating 360 video required 5 Gopros and powerful software to stitch the footage together. The weight and cost of these system was prohibitive. Today, you can buy light 3D camera for less than 400USD. As such, Facebook and YouTube are full of 360 videos like this:
4. Safety Features
Obstacle Avoidance is the backbone of autonomous control for today’s drones, as such systems allow a drone to reach to destination or return home without collisions. DJI released an object detection system in early 2015 called Guidance, which combines machine vision technology with sonar sensors. Guidance is available with DJI’s Matrice 100 and is intended for use by developers.
In March 2016, DJI released the Phantom 4, which came pre-equipped with an obstacle avoidance system. Yuneec and Intel demonstrated obstacle avoidance with RealSense at CES in 2016.
The Typhoon H with RealSense
The use of redundant components has also taken off. Within the last year, many new drone models now include dual GPS modules that when used in conjunction with Glonass allow for even more precise hovering. The Phantom 4 includes dual compasses, which makes the drone more resistant to electro-magnetic interference. More redundancy will probably lead to fewer flyaways this year.
5. Vision Positioning System
Vision positioning systems and sonar altitude holding systems have become popular. Visual position systems give drones the ability to hover precisely, even without GPS signal. Before such systems, flying indoors was extremely difficult, even for experienced pilots. Vision positioning systems allow virtually anyone to fly inside. This video shows what a good VPS can do:
It’s fascinating to see how fast drone technology is developing. Who knows what to expect next year!
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