Let’s face it, as a drone pilot you’re always looking out for obstacles and hazards that may affect your flight. It becomes second nature. You’ll even find yourself doing it when not actually flying.
When it comes to obstacles, well, they’re everywhere. From the many trees to that thin wire that just barely shows in your video feed the moment before you might hit, and more.
There’s a likelihood you will find one of these obstacles in your path, and this is where having an obstacle avoidance system may just save the day.
The DJI Mini 3 has a very agreeable obstacle avoidance system considering the size and weight of the aircraft. It has an obstacle avoidance system that not only looks ahead but backward and downward.
It’s really surprising they managed to get so much into that small design that previously only the pricier and larger systems offered.
Take, for instance, the true 360-degree obstacle avoidance like on the Mavic 3.
For the DJI Mini 3, it seems they shoved as much in there as the size would allow, and it can be the difference between avoiding an object and dealing with a crash.
When the DJI Mini 3 came out, it was chocked full of improvements, from the camera being upgraded from the DJI’s Mini 2’s 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor to a 1/1.3″CMOS sensor on the Mini 3 to its newer sleek profile, a change that was necessary to allow for those backward dual vision sensors.
It features an obstacle avoidance system that contains not only a downward dual-vision sensor, as found on nearly every DJI aircraft, but a front and back dual-vision sensor incorporated into it.
It’s the downward sensor, for example, that allows for Return to Home features and pinpoint landing. It would be one of the largest improvements we’ve ever seen in a next-generation aircraft from DJI. It’s huge, folks, HUGE!
The Mini 3 Pro is the first Mini to contain such an obstacle avoidance system, and due to that, it’s considered to be the safest Mini to date.
If that was all, we’d still be pretty impressed. That’s not all, though.
The DJI Mini 3 continues the improvements over its predecessor with other exciting features never-before-seen in a DJI Mini series drone, including subject-tracking, which is made possible due to the new obstacle avoidance system.
We also can’t overlook DJI’s flagship-level OcuSync 3.0 video transmission system, which is also inside the DJI Mini 3.
Subject-tracking was a huge improvement and is also due to the new, more advanced obstacle avoidance system that the Mini 3 has. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible.
What is obstacle avoidance?
Obstacle avoidance is just what it sounds like. It is a safety feature that helps the drone/aircraft avoid collisions and crashes.
This feature enables the drone to scan the surroundings to detect an obstacle in its path in real-time.
If an obstacle is detected, the drone will follow the protocol you have set it to.
- Bypass – Most obstacle avoidance systems offer a choice of reaction protocols, such as “bypass.”
The bypass option will instruct the aircraft to avoid the obstacle, and the aircraft will choose a path around or over the obstacle independently of pilot control.
- Brake – Another option is to set the system to “brake.” This stops the aircraft before the obstacle and places it into a hover, waiting for the pilot to take action.
This is also the default for the DJI Mini 3.
- Turn it Off – There is a third option available for the obstacle avoidance system, and that is to turn it off.
This may seem strange to a new pilot, as you generally do want to fly with as much protection and safety as possible.
You will find there are times when getting that shot may require flying it with the obstacle avoidance system off, as it would otherwise interfere with the shot you’re trying to capture.
For instance, flying through a narrow corridor or down a wooded path.
Here the obstacle avoidance systems may actually hinder such a flight, so flying with the system off may be required.
How obstacle avoidance works
Obstacle avoidance is not only a difficult achievement but an equally impressive one once achieved.
All obstacle avoidance systems work off of some fairly simple concepts with a lot of heavy-duty programming backing it up.
By employing ultrasonic sensors and visual sensors, those dual sensors take in the surrounding environment by scanning it constantly.
That information is then relayed to the CPU and the pilot assist system of the aircraft, and in conjunction with other flight information, the aircraft has a true sense of its surroundings.
Here’s where it gets really phenomenal. Once this data has been collected within the DJI Mini 3, it is processed by DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems 4.0 found in the DJI Mini 3, Mavic 3, and the Air 2S.
Referred to APAS for short, this is DJI’s latest version of this Pilot’s Assistance System. In this bit of programming, the APAS that decides what in the flight path may be viewed as an obstacle.
This system borders on an AI-level program, calculating all of this information in milliseconds – faster than the pilot could ever hope to achieve and does it all in real-time.
As I said, it is a big feat, and DJI has accomplished this with some pretty amazing accuracy. Is the system perfect? Well, come on, we know nothing is perfect.
However, this most recent APAS system is improved and does seem to do well in areas with numerous obstacles, as well as recognizing smaller diameter wires than the APAS 3.0 version.
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Things to Know
Obstacle Avoidance is off while in Sport Mode
There are some things you should be aware of when it comes to the Obstacle Avoidance system on the DJI Mini 3.
One of the biggest would be that the system is not ON when flying in Sport mode.
There’s a reason that the system is disabled when flying in sport mode. Due to the speed and increased agility of the aircraft when in this mode, the obstacle avoidance system just can’t keep up.
It does not work well in low light conditions
At this time, there is not an obstacle avoidance system works well in low-light situations.
It’s actually probably a warning you have received in the app already when powering on inside a structure or in a shaded area under a tree canopy outside.
The nature of the type of visual sensors that are used in obstacle avoidance systems is that they have fixed lenses, and as such, they do not have the option of adjusting to different lighting conditions.
Calibrate the aircraft for best results
In order to get the most from your DJI Mini 3’s obstacle avoidance system, it is important to calibrate it every so often.
Between every 30 to 50 flights is usually good – don’t just wait for the aircraft to ask you to do so, through an app warning.
A system such as this has just so much going on.
It’s very possible that some of the sensors may shift out of being calibrated due to either your flying style or some other reason, such as a small damage-free crash.
Here I’ll provide an example of a personal experience to help you understand what I mean.
I recently had a flight that required flying at a 60 ft height around a large retailer. It was a facade shoot. This location had a flagpole located on the roof. For the record, the top of the flagpole was at 65 ft.
You may already know where this is headed but do let me finish.
After capturing three sides of the building and then requiring a battery swap, I launched from the front parking lot and was making a beeline to where I had left off.
Right in line with my leaving-off point and my launch area was … what?
Well, that slightly taller flagpole than the height of the flight. I watched as it grew on the screen, and it looked like we would clear to one side.
As the aircraft got closer and closer, it was indeed in direct line with that flagpole and was going to crash right into it.
I was just about to take action when the obstacle avoidance system did just as it should. It stopped the aircraft from colliding with the object in front of it and put the aircraft into a hover about 8ft from the flagpole.
All good! Right, well after that near miss, the obstacle avoidance system did require being recalibrated; it was almost as if the poor little fella was in shock from the whole ordeal.
The reality isn’t too far off. At the moment that system took action, it also froze.
Landing the craft and powering down and powering on again did unfreeze the obstacle avoidance system, but the warning to calibrate was still there.
I finished the flight and, once back at the office, recalibrated the sensors through the Assistant 2 app.
So yeah, always be sure that drone-saving system is calibrated.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!