Phantom drone avoids obstacles

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One of the world’s largest drone manufacturers has added sense-and-avoid technology to the latest version of its most popular model.

Chinese company DJI launched the Phantom 4 yesterday, with a spate of YouTube videos detailing the new and improved abilities of its flagship model.

Most notably, the Phantom 4 has an obstacle avoidance system, making it safer and easier to fly.

‘This obstacle avoidance system takes the fear out of flying,’ says DJI. ‘A pair of front facing cameras see and detect obstacles as far as 50 feet (15 m) away, while downward facing cameras capture optical and sonar data.’

‘All of this data is sent to the flight controller (and) at the same time, a hardware redundancy system isolates incorrect data and invalidates it,’ says DJI.

The Phantom 4 also has an inertial sensor, and a barometer to determine air density and altitude while an enhanced GPS module allows for connection to 36 simultaneous satellite signals. ‘The flight controller sends all of this information to four motors which make intricate, coordinated adjustments in mid-air,’ say DJI.

DJI have also included automated flight features, allowing the Phantom 4 to track moving subjects without the need for a separate GPS tracker to be worn by the subject.

These safety improvements are in-step with the drone’s significant flight performance improvements including a reported top-speed of 72km/h (in ‘sport mode’), a max transmission distance of 5 km and an improved flight time of 28 minutes thanks to a new 81.3 watt-hour lithium-polymer battery.

Disturbingly, DJI also advertises the Phantom 4 as having a maximum service ceiling of 19,685 feet, or 6000 metres. However, the maker reminds potential buyers that onboard software restricts altitude to 400 feet (120 m)above take-off point.

Australia’s drone safety rules for recreational unmanned flight have been in place since 2002 and call for a common-sense approach when flying.

In summary, these rules are:

  • You must only operate the aircraft in your line-of-sight in daylight. Don’t let it get too far away from you.
  • You must not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.
  • You must not fly over any populous area, such as beaches, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.
  • If you are in controlled airspace—which covers most Australian cities—you must not fly higher than 400 feet (120 m).
  • You must not fly in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, so keep at least 5.5 km away from airports or aerodromes.

CASA also released the below video before Christmas, aimed at new drone pilots who may not know the safety rules. More information can be found on CASA’s website.

The Phantom 4 is already available for purchase online and is expected at major retailers in mid-March.

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