Drones are getting smarter. And the world's biggest and best-known drone company has what might just the smartest (non-military) drone yet. The Phantom 4 is DJI's first drone to incorporate computer vision and onboard sensors, letting it track objects as it films and take the most optimal flight paths between two or more points.
The big selling point of the new Phantom 4 is DJI's ActiveTrack, which uses the complementary DJI Go app for iOS or Android -- on the smartphone or tablet connected to the DJI drone's handheld controller, users can direct the Phantom 4 to lock onto an object in the camera's field of vision, centering the tracking on it even while the drone is moving. ActiveTrack can also track moving objects, and understands when objects move or turn on a three-dimensional plane; it'll turn the Phantom 4 from a capable videography tool into an awesome one, even in the hands of amateurs.
While the Phantom 4 looks similar to the previous iterations of the Phantom 3, its 4K camera has been upgraded with higher quality glass optics that reduce chromatic aberration and give better sharpness in the corner of the camera's frame. DJI's excellent LightBridge system returns, too, linking the drone to its controller with HD video transmission at up to five kilometres' distance. The Phantom 4, too, has a new composite frame and the gimbal has better vibration dampening and camera image stabilisation.
Like the 3DR Solo, the Phantom 4 uses GPS and location sensors with its TapFly function, letting pilots double-tap a map location on their paired smartphone or tablet and have the drone calculate the best flight route to that destination while avoiding any obstacles along that course. That path can be interrupted, too, and a new destination set with the Phantom recalculating and travelling smoothly -- making your film look good even if you're ham-fisted at the controls. That tech uses two front-facing optical cameras that track and sense obstructions, and will either adjust the Phantom 4's flight-path or stop the drone completely.
The new Phantom 4 will stay in the air for longer too, with more efficient motors and power delivery along with a more powerful (but still removable) battery pack boosting flight times to 28 minutes. At retail -- including in the Apple Store -- the Phantom 4 will set you back US$1399, or $2399 in Australia with free shipping. Pre-orders are open now, with first orders shipping March 15 from Apple and DJI and other stock in retailers opening orders on March 23 and shipping from April 1.