For over a year, Mini 2 users have been waiting for DJI to include their drone in the software development kit (SDK). Adding drones to it enables creators to include this aircraft in their applications. Even days before DJI published the newly updated SDK on their website, some apps already had a beta version available since December 31, 2021.
Litchi for DJI Drones is a popular autonomous flight app for DJI drones, an alternative to DJI Go or DJI FLY. The app, available for devices running Android and iOS operating systems, offers the user the possibility of creating automated missions, a few of intelligent flight modes, and, in general, an improved user experience.
Supporting most DJI drones, Litchi is a great option for audiovisual work, giving us options that we don’t get using the official DJI Fly app on certain drones, such as Waypoints for the Mavic Mini or Air 2S.
In this article, we will talk about its main features, perform several step-by-step guides together, have a look at some of its downsides, and compatible devices, amongst many other things. Get your favorite drink and sit in your comfy chair, as this will take a while.
What drones does Litchi support?
Litchi has been available for quite a few years, but it was not until early 2022 when they included support for a few of the latest DJI drones, such as the Mini 2, Mini SE, or the Mavic Air 2S (the best bang-for-the-buck drone for real estate photography, as we talked in this article).
Many users expected Litchi to add support for the Mavic 3 by January 2022, but as we have seen with other releases from the Chinese company, DJI drones are usually included in the SDK after they have been in the market for a year or so.
In the user guide, they assure us that the new flagship commercial drone from DJI will be on the list of supported drones as soon as the manufacturer includes it in the SDK. It should be around November 2022. Take a seat and wait patiently if you own this drone, it will be worth it.
For now, let us have a look at this list, which includes all supported DJI drones by Litchi:
- Mini 2 (Android only, January 2022)
- Mini SE (Android only, January 2022)
- Mavic Air 2S (Android only, January 2022)
- Mavic Mini
- Mavic Air 2
- Mavic 2 Zoom
- Mavic 2 Pro
- Mavic Air
- Mavic Pro
- Phantom 4 Standard
- Phantom 4 Advanced
- Phantom 4 Pro
- Phantom 4 Pro V.2
- Phantom 3 Standard
- Phantom 3 4K
- Phantom 3 Advanced
- Phantom 3 Professional
- Inspire 1 X3
- Inspire 1 Z3
- Inspire 1 Pro
- Inspire 1 RAW
- Inspire 2
Litchi device & system compatibility
Both Android and iOS devices are compatible with Litchi for DJI Drones. However, Litchi for iOS is not yet compatible with Mini 2, Mini SE, and Air 2S. This should change as soon as DJI updates the SDK with compatibility for these drones on that particular operating system.
There is no official information about what devices are compatible with Litchi, but I think it is safe to assume that the requirements should be pretty close to those needed to successfully run the DJI Fly app.
As we talked about in this article, at this moment, a phone or tablet with at least 4 GB of RAM memory, 8 core CPU, and a 64-bit operating system should be the basic system specifications to look for if you are planning on buying a device to use it with this app.
Remember that the list of devices, especially those running an Android operating system is huge, so there are many options to choose from. Litchi has a community Facebook group that can be useful for determining if your device is fully compatible or not. Besides that, there are many interesting discussions going on daily, so if you are a Litchi user, or you plan to be, it is highly recommended that you join the group.
Connecting Litchi to your Android or iOS device
Connecting your device to your flight app should be something pretty easy, but more often than we would like it to be, this is not the case.
To help connect your device to the Litchi app, check out these quick guides:
Connecting your Android device with Litchi using a USB connection (Mavic Mini, Mavic Air, Phantom 3 Advanced and Pro, Phantom 4, Inspire series):
- Make sure that your phone is not running DJI Fly, or any flight apps. Kill them if they are.
- If any of those apps are set as default, you have to clear that setting to avoid conflicts. When connecting the USB cable to your device, it will ask you if you want that application to be the one used by default. Always give permission to use the app ‘just once’. In other words, never choose the option to select any flight app by default.
- Turn on your drone and remote controller.
- Plug the remote controller into the electronic device running Litchi.
- A message will pop up, asking you if you want to allow that app to run ‘just once’, or ‘always’. Select “just once”, as “always” will make that app the default one, which will cause you some headaches when you try to use another flight app.
- You can now use Litchi.
Connecting your Android device to Litchi using a Wi-Fi connection (Phantom 3 Standard/4K, Spark):
- Make sure that no other flight apps, such as DJI Fly, are running in the background.
- Close any of these apps to ensure the proper functioning of the Litchi app.
- Turn on your aircraft and remote controller.
- Connect to the Wi-Fi network used by the drone.
- Initiate the Litchi app.
Connecting your iOS device with Litchi:
- Make sure that no flight applications are running in the background, such as DJI Fly or DJI Go.
- Turn on your drone and its remote controller.
- If you are using a Wi-Fi-based remote controller, connect it to the aircraft’s network. If you are using a USB connection, plug the cable into the controller.
- Start Litchi and enjoy.
What does the Litchi app do?
Simply put, Litchi for DJI Drones is one of the best alternatives to the DJI Fly app. In certain drones, such as the Mini 2, Mavic Mini, Mini SE, or Air 2S, users can create automated flight missions or fly with FPV phone goggles, features that the official app lacks.
Many pilots have reported having connection problems with the DJI Fly 1.5 app, even at ranges of 656 ft (200 m), a distance that should not have this kind of issue, as the Mini 2, for example, has an official range of at least 3 km, depending on the area and obstacles surrounding the drone.
In my case, I have suffered these connection issues with the DJI Fly app myself. The Chinese manufacturer must be aware of this, as they have updated version 1.5 several times, but the issue still remains (as of January 22, 2022).
As we can see in the image below, which is a screenshot of a Waypoints mission flown by my Mini 2 with Litchi (beta version 4.20), the RC connectivity signal has 5 bars (the maximum) at a distance of 250 m (820 ft).
Although the DJI Fly app is simple and easy to use, it lacks many of the features that DJI Go offers, such as Waypoints. The user interface implemented in Litchi is almost identical to the one found in DJI Go, and allows the user to enjoy some of its features. This is one of the reasons why people love this alternative flight app.
In the image below, you can check the basic information displayed on the status bar.
In the next image, the similarities with the DJI Go app are evident. Although Litchi is not as simplified as the DJI Fly app, you can master the user interface in just a couple of minutes, thanks to the positioning of the buttons, especially in the Waypoints mode.
Litchi main features
Now that we have a better understanding of Litchi’s on-screen display, it is time to look at everything this app offers, from Waypoints to the innovative FPV mode. As stated previously, this software gives the user several features that cannot be accessed using the official DJI Fly app in certain drones, such as the Mini 2 or the Air 2S.
In FPV mode you can fly your drone manually, as you would normally do in the DJI Fly or DJI Go app. However, there are a few options that differ from those apps:
- Tripod mode: A fan favorite, with this mode inside the FPV mode, you can fly your drone super slowly, which will help you achieve great cinematic-like results (only available to some drones).
- Course lock: As the name suggests, your heading will be fixed. The right joystick will move the aircraft forward and back in the direction already defined. At the moment, this is not supported by Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Mini SE, Air 2, Air 2S.
- Home lock: When this option is active, moving down the right stick of the controller will bring the aircraft back to its home point, no matter where the aircraft is heading. As in the previous mode, this is not supported by Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Mini SE, Air 2, Air 2S.
- Auto-Take-off/landing: Tapping this button will perform an automatic take-off or landing, similar to in the DJI Fly or DJI Go apps.
- Share/Stream: The share button on the top-right corner of the screen gives you the option to stream your flights in real-time (with little delay). It’s not available for all drones, as on my Mini 2 this option was not present in any mode.
Only available on iOS devices, with Litchi Vue, you can stream your drone’s video footage to a nearby device.
To use Litchi Vue, follow these steps:
- Connect both devices to the same Wi-Fi network (internet is not required).
- Connect the aircraft to the main device (the one intended for flying).
- On the same device, tap on the Litchi Vue icon. It will turn yellow, indicating that is ready for streaming.
- Initiate the Litchi Vue app on the second device, where you should now see the name of the main device streaming the footage. Tap on connect.
- The drone video streaming feed will now appear on the second device.
Virtual reality mode
To enjoy this feature, you need to have a phone VR set. You can find one of these goggles for as little as $10, so it is worth paying for them, as in this mode you will be flying as if you were on board the drone. It’s fun!
Litchi waypoints (Step-by-step guide)
This mode is by far the most requested in the new DJI Fly, and a prominent downside of the official app. It is incomprehensible why DJI has left this feature aside, as for many professionals, this is a necessary tool in their day-to-day operations.
With Waypoints, we can simulate a two-operator mission, as it allows us to automize flight paths while we control the heading of the drone. This experience is similar to flying a DJI Inspire with two controllers, but without needing a second person to fly the aircraft.
Thanks to Litchi, we can enjoy this useful feature on every drone supported by the application.
Creating your first mission is fast and easy. Let’s see how:
- Tap on the tool that adds a waypoint.
- Tap on the screen where you want to place it. If you want to move this waypoint, long press on it and then move your finger to wherever you want to change it.
- Tap on the waypoint to edit its settings.
- Choose altitude, speed, curve size, gimbal pitch, or add a custom action.
- Stay for: This is the time that the aircraft will hover in the waypoint (32 secs max.).
- Take Photo: The drone’s camera will take a picture at this location (recording must be off).
- Start Recording: The camera will start recording on this waypoint.
- Stop Recording: The camera will stop recording at this waypoint.
- Rotate Aircraft: The aircraft will rotate to the angle you specify (in degrees).
- Tilt Camera: Select the angle of the camera (from 0 ° to -90°).
- Zoom: Choose the level of zoom. Avoid setting it too high, or you will lose quality.
- Tap on the Settings icon (left side of the screen) and select the heading mode.
- Toward Next Waypoint: The flight path will focus on the next point of the route.
- Initial Direction: The drone will keep the heading in the same direction it had when the mission started.
- User Controlled: You can manually control the direction while the aircraft flies the mission.
- Waypoint defined: The aircraft will follow the instructions set in every waypoint.
- Choose a Finish Action. This is what you want the aircraft to do when the mission is finished. You can make the drone do nothing (hover), return home, land, go back to the first waypoint, or reverse (you will need to manually stop the mission).
- Choose from straight lines or curved turns. When selecting the latter, you will need to set the curve amount in the waypoint options.
- Choose the cruising speed (maximum of 54 km/h).
- Choose the maximum flight speed (the maximum is also 54 km/h).
- Choose the photo capture interval (seconds or meters).
- Choose the default curve size (0% to 100%).
- Choose the default Gimbal Pitch Mode:
- Disable: Manual gimbal control.
- Focus POI: The gimbal will focus on the Point of Interest (POI).
- Interpolate: Manually select the gimbal pitch angle in the waypoint settings.
- Choose the rotation direction. It can be clockwise or anticlockwise.
- Tweak your camera settings or set it to automatic.
- Tap on the padlock (top right) to lock the mission. This prevents you from accidentally changing it.
- Tap on Start to initiate your Waypoints mission.
Litchi Mission Hub
If you are a computer addict like me, you will understand the pain of finding out that your favorite drone mission application does not have a desktop version. Yes, where there’s a will, there’s a way, but having a version that was created specifically for that platform always makes things much easier.
In the Litchi Mission Hub, we can create mission plans exactly as we would in the phone or tablet app, but with the advantage of being able to enjoy them on a big computer screen.
Using the full-screen mode in chrome (F11) makes our mission area so much bigger, but that is not the only advantage, as importing DEM files and exporting KMLs is so much faster if you do it on a computer. Besides that, in Mission Hub we can synchronize our missions with our devices, so whatever we create on it will show up on our phone/tablet (internet connection required).
Mission Hub is pretty straightforward if you have already used the Litchi Waypoints app. For this reason, we will not go into explaining every aspect, as we did earlier with the Waypoints mode. If you want to fully understand how Mission Hub works, just read the Waypoints explanation.
Mission Planning with Google Earth on Litchi
What needs to be explained is the ability we have to create 3D missions using Google Earth. This allows us to position the camera exactly where we want it in every waypoint, greatly improving the quality and precision of our mission.
Once we are done with the mission creation process, we can import it to Mission Hub.
Here is a full guide for creating a 3D mission using Google Earth:
- Download Google earth from this link.
- Install and open Google Earth.
- Once in Google Earth, type the place where you want to do the mission.
- On Google Earth, in My Places, create a subfolder named Missions, then another folder inside with the name of your mission.
- Create a Placemark on Google Earth. This will be your take-off point, so name it that way and add the number 1 to it, as it will be Waypoint No. 1.
- Add as many waypoints as you want your mission to have, naming them by numbers.
- Time to save the mission. Go to your mission folder, right-click, save place as, save it as a KML file.
- Go to Litchi Mission Hub.
- Import your mission by clicking on missions, import, then choose your file.
- Now, you will have two options:
- Treat views as waypoints: This option creates curves between every waypoint.
- Add take photo action: No curves, and it will take a picture at every waypoint.
- Check your mission in Google Earth by clicking on mission, then export as KML 3D path.
- Open the file, and you will see the 3D flight path on Google Earth!
Litchi follow mode
Litchi’s follow mode differs from those that we have seen in other apps. Instead of selecting a subject, in this particular mode, the drone will follow a device or a pin. The device can be the one controlling the aircraft, or a second one running the Litchi Magic Leash app (only available for Android).
Litchi developers warn us to only employ this mode in wide open areas, as it is easy to crash your drone while using it, especially if it does not have an obstacle avoidance system. The best advice I can give you is to fly the aircraft way above any obstacle that it might find on its path.
To properly configure it, these are the settings you should know:
- Altitude: Probably the most important. As I mention above, set the altitude so the drone won’t find any obstacles on its path. Better safe than sorry.
- Distance: How far the drone will fly from the device/pin that it will follow.
- Heading mode: In the heading mode ‘North’, the aircraft will point its nose to the angle relative to the north. You can adjust these parameters by tapping, holding, and moving your finger on the compass with the Litchi icon.
In ‘Course’ mode, the aircraft will follow the subject from behind, in front, or from any of the sides (as long as the subject is moving faster than 1m/s).
- Gimbal control: In ‘Automatic’, the gimbal will automatically point to the subject. When set to manual, the user will have full control of the gimbal.
- Subject Height: The height at which the camera should point.
- Subject offset: With this parameter, you will set how much the subject will be away from the center of the image.
- Altitude reference: On ‘Power-On Elevation’ (default), the aircraft will fly at an altitude relative to the one set when it took off. When set to ‘Mobile Device Elevation’, it will use the device’s elevation as the base.
- RC Joystick: You can adjust the altitude and distance at which the drone follows the subject (device/pin). For example, this mode allows you to perform an orbit (clockwise) by moving the left stick to the right and holding it there.
- Horizontal movement: When set to off, any horizontal movements will be disabled.
If you want your aircraft to follow a second device, you will need to have the Litchi Magic Leash installed (Android only). Click/tap on this link to download it.
To setup Litchi Magic Leash follow these steps:
- Start Litchi on your main device (the one controlling the drone).
- Connect Litchi to your drone.
- Select Follow mode and tap on the Magic Leash Button to connect.
- Take note or remember the PIN that pops up.
- On the second device, start the Litchi Magic Leash app.
- Tap the Magic Leash icon to connect.
- Both devices should now be paired.
Litchi Orbit mode
This mode is what we know from the DJI Go app as Point of Interest (POI). Selecting Orbit mode, the aircraft will circle around a set point. You can choose to control the gimbal or set it to automatic. Orbit also allows us to save and load flights, which can be very useful for certain jobs.
These are the orbit mode settings you should know about:
- Altitude: The altitude at which the drone will fly.
- Radius: The radius of the circle drawn by the aircraft while circling the subject.
- Speed: The speed of the drone to carry out the orbiting.
- Entry Point: In this setting you can change from where the aircraft will enter the circle to start orbiting.
- Heading mode: It defines the orientation of the drone. You can choose from the following:
- Center, along the circle (forward), along the circle (backward), outward and user controlled (left stick in mode 2).
- Direction: This sets to which side the drone will fly; clockwise or anticlockwise.
- Gimbal control: In automatic, the gimbal will focus on the point of interest. In manual, the user takes control.
- Subject height: This is the height at which the camera should point.
Litchi Virtual reality
Although Litchi claims on its website that VR is available in every flight mode, the icon only displayed on my Litchi app on the FPV and Track modes. I am using the recently added DJI Mini 2, so that might be the reason.
The Virtual Reality feature is a way of immersing yourself in the flight, as the video feed from the drone camera appears just in front of your eyes. You can also move the gimbal with the movements of your head for further involvement in the flight.
However, that is not even the best part of VR mode, but the fact that the VR goggles required to use it cost around $10!
Here is how you use this mode in 3 simple steps:
- Make sure that your drone and Litchi are connected.
- Tap on the VR icon at the top right of the screen (in the available modes)
- Exit VR mode by tapping the VR button.
VR mode has just a few settings. Let’s see what they are:
- Display OSD: Turning this on, the app will display on-screen the altitude, distance, speed, etc.
- Depth offset: This will increase the depth offset on the screen display to make it more appropriate for your eyes.
- Gimbal Head Tracking: Activating this option will allow you to move the gimbal with your head movements.
- Gimbal Speed: Defines how fast the gimbal will respond when you move your head.
- Aircraft Head Tracking: You can choose from three options: Off, immersive, or joystick. This option enables you to control the rotation of the aircraft with your head.
The VR mode is not only a fun way of enjoying your flights, it can also provide a unique and accurate experience for jobs such as inspecting electricity pylons, bridges, etc. However, due to the fact that you will be flying BVLOS, make sure that you comply with the regulations set for this kind of flight.
Litchi Focus mode
Focus mode allows you to keep the camera centered on a point of interest (POI) or a device while you fly the aircraft. For the footage to remain on the subject, the drone automatically controls the rotation and tilt of the gimbal. It can also be used with Litchi Magic Leash (Android only) to focus on a second device, just as we saw in Follow mode.
To show the focus mode settings, tap on the icon (left). Here are the Focus settings:
- Point of Interest: Tap anywhere on the map to set a POI.
- Subject: You can choose between POI or mobile device.
- Subject height: The height at which your subject is supposed to be (-200 to 500 m).
- Aircraft rotation: Two settings to choose from;
- Manual: The user controls the aircraft yaw.
- Auto: This option unlocks two more settings:
- Joystick reference: Choose from default, aircraft heading, mobile device orientation, home-aircraft bearing, or mobile device-aircraft bearing (more on this later).
- Joystick speed limiter: Choose between 0% and 100%.
Litchi Panorama mode
Selecting Panorama mode, you will be able to take amazing horizontal, vertical, and spherical panorama images. Apart from the camera settings, we find only 2 buttons in this mode: the one to automatically take a 360° spherical panorama, and the general panorama settings button.
These are the settings that we can tweak on this mode:
- Width: Set the angle of the panorama image in degrees (up to 360°).
- Columns: Select the number of columns for the image. Choosing a bigger number increases the image count and, therefore, the size of the panorama.
- Height: Select the centered height for the start of the panorama image.
- Rows: In the same way as in Columns, the more rows, the more images, resulting in a bigger file size.
- Nadirs: The number of bottom shots that the panorama will have.
- Grid pattern: Select from:
- Linear: The column setting applies to each row. That means that in an 8 columns x 4 rows panorama, the drone will take 8 images for each row.
- Spherical: The column setting only applies to the horizon row.
- Capture strategy: Select from two options; column by column, or row-by-row.
- Delay before each photo: Set a number in milliseconds. Having a delay before taking a shot can help you to avoid getting blurry images. Useful for windy days.
- Delay after each photo: In the same way as before, this feature can help stabilize the drone to get sharper images.
- Start Button: This button starts the panorama, showing you how many pictures will be taken.
- Save to Panorama Database: Choosing ‘Yes’ will save the panorama to the database (only available on iOS devices).
Litchi Track mode
The last intelligent flight mode that Litchi offers is Track. This mode is similar to the follow mode found in the DJI Fly app. Litchi uses state-of-the-art computer vision to track the subject and keep it on the frame, while you can fly manually or let the drone fly autonomously. The aircraft rotation and gimbal pitch are controlled by Litchi on this mode.
To select the subject you want to track, use the ‘pinch’ gesture with two fingers.
|Note: This mode requires a high-performance device to run it, as Litchi runs algorithms to track the object, and renders the video in real-time. Closing all background applications is highly recommended.|
These are the settings that you should know before using Litchi’s Track mode:
- Aircraft rotation: When active, Litchi will control the rotation and pitch of the aircraft, unlocking all these options that you can tweak.
- Joystick Reference: Choose between 5:
- Default: The sticks will respond normally.
- Aircraft heading: The course is locked based on the aircraft position (similar to the course lock mode).
- Mobile device orientation: With this setting selected, the course lock will be locked to the location of the device running Litchi.
- Home-aircraft bearing: The course lock will be locked to the selected home position.
- Mobile device-aircraft bearing: The course lock will be locked based on the bearing between the mobile device and the location of the aircraft.
- Joystick speed limiter: Lowering down this setting will make the aircraft fly slower (active only when aircraft rotation is on).
- Orbit speed: Choose the speed at which the aircraft will orbit the subject.
Regaining control of your drone from flight modes
It was crazy seeing online how many people did not know or were afraid about not being able to regain control while in mission (myself included). This was one of the first things I tried when I tested the Litchi app.
Guess what? It turns out that it is so much easier than we thought it would be.
There are two options to regain control of the aircraft:
- Tap the ‘stop mission’ or ‘pause mission’ buttons.
- Move the controller stickers until you have control of the drone.
See? It was much simpler than what I had read in some forums!
Litchi Simulator mode
If you want to test out any of Litchi’s flight modes before flying your drone with them, you can do this with the simulator mode. In this mode, you have the opportunity to try all flight modes in a simulation. That is, without actually flying the aircraft.
However, to do this, you still need to be connected to the drone. Enabling this feature is easy, you just have to long-press at the center of the status bar. Once active, the background of the bar will change to purple, indicating that you are indeed in Simulator mode.
After initiating the mission, the drone’s rotors will not spin up, as it will only fly virtually.
Litchi downsides/possible improvements
- The histogram cannot be resized.
- The on-screen buttons in the tablet version of the app (Android) are a little too big.
- There is no information displayed on each flight mode, which means that if you have not done your homework before using the app, you will be lost.
- In Mission Hub, it is a pity that we are given the option to tilt the camera view, but not make use of the Google Earth 3D photogrammetry options. This would improve mission planning vastly. Maybe in the future?
- 3D missions using Google Earth are limited to those areas where Google offers full photogrammetry of the area. If, for example, we want to create a 3D mission in a remote area, where knowing the height of a forest is important, we would not have this type of data. This is not a downside of the Litchi app, but rather of the way that we use that feature.
- Another issue with creating missions using the Google Earth method is that the accuracy of the imported waypoints seems a little off. Always use the option to check your 3D flight plan to correct any problems.
- The price of the Litchi app is so low that anyone can afford it. However, many users say that it is cheap because they offer a hidden course on their website, promoted as Phantom Film School. Obviously, you do not need to purchase this course, but similar apps include free training courses for you to learn how to use all its features.
- The Litchi Magic Leash app does not transfer pressure data, which means that if you go up or down a hill, the drone will not adjust its altitude. Hopefully, a solution will be implemented soon, as this is potentially dangerous.
- I miss the option to simulate the mission without having to connect and with GPS service in the drone. Yes, we can simulate the mission on Google Earth as we have seen, but it is different.
- Some features of the app are locked to either Android or iOS.
At a price of only $25, it is hard not to fall to the temptation of purchasing Litchi. There are other apps that will give you similar features, but you have to pay more (and get less). For instance, Dronelink has the same entry price, but it only works with the Spark, Mini, and Air series. It comes without Waypoints, although it does include more intelligent flight modes.
Nothing compares to Litchi’s features for that price, so avoid spending money on a few coffees this week, you will be able to purchase Litchi and your wallet won’t even notice it.
That is all for today, pilot! I hope you have a better understanding of the Litchi app and, most of all, that you have many safe flights with it. I will see you next time on Droneblog.
Citations / Resources:
Community facebook group