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If you’ve been following the latest news on the DJI Spark through our site or the dozens of other sites talking about it, nobody seems to know what DJI’s plans are. Some people think it’s a racing drone; some people think a mini Mavic is coming out; others might say it’s a selfie drone to compete with the Yuneec Breeze.
Although the Spark could technically turn out to be all of these things, we think there’s a bigger plan at play here; something that could change the industry completely. And no, this is not an April Fools post like the last one we did talking about VR and the Phantom 4. Although ironically, we’re going to be talking about some of the same subjects that were in that post.
The Mavic Pro reinvented what a camera drone should look like, and where you can take it. So, for the Spark, another new category of drones is on the rise, but what is it? Before going any further, you should know that the things you’re about to read are not absolute facts, but rather conclusions based on the highly coincidental information I’ve found.
Let’s talk about the name “Spark”. It’s been trademarked by DJI for a few weeks now, but why? Why go with the name Spark? There’s even a company in the drone industry with the same name called Spark Aerial.
Was this just a coincidence, or is there something else going on here?
Taking a look at Spark Aerial, they appear to be an aerial photography company on the surface, but if you look deeper into their team and what they have been working on over the past few years, a much different story starts to come into play.
You see a team of engineers and software developers with a large variety of skill sets shooting videos for clients, but also experimenting with new ideas, developing custom software, and integrating it with existing technology to create potential new products.
Not only that but ever since the company started, their website has always had information about projects they’ve worked on. However, recently they completely removed all of their content and put a fullscreen video saying “coming soon” within the same week that the DJI Spark photos leaked. Is this just a coincidence?
The company Spark Aerial has worked on a few different projects over the years, but two projects stick out to me; virtual reality and swarm technology (when many drones fly together to achieve a task based on a central link or computer which controls them). Virtual reality is a growing industry, and DJI knows this.
That’s why they developed a VR headset (which hasn’t released yet). Spark Aerial has been experimenting with virtual reality since 2015, and they’ve even worked with DJI on VR demonstrations at various events and expos in the US. All of this information could be completely random and unrelated to the DJI Spark, but if nothing else I think the inspiration for the name could have come from working with this company.
In the past, there were almost no publicly available DJI patents that related to virtual reality, but on March 9th, a patent published titled “system and method for supporting three-dimensional display in first person view (fpv).”
Out of all the patents I’ve seen from DJI, this is one of the most exciting ones I’ve seen so far. It basically talks about how you could take a standard 2D video feed from a drone like the Spark and convert it into a 3D video feed for a VR stereoscopic viewing experience!
With this technology, you could even take an existing drone like the Mavic Pro and see everything in 3D.
It is possible, and here’s how! First, you need to understand how 3D images work. Whether you’re looking at a TV or through a VR headset, both use the same concept. They simply trick your eyes into thinking you’re looking at a 3D object by showing you two different 2D images from two different angles.
The problem with this is that you usually need two separate cameras on the drone to capture the images, but this is where the magic comes in.
By processing multiple frames from a video feed, you can actually create a depth map based on motion. This depth map can then be used to create a new image with a shifted perspective. Once the new image is created, the original image can be sent to one eye and the new image can be sent to the other eye.
The great thing about this is that the processing of the picture doesn’t need to be done on the drone itself. The video can be sent to a pair of DJI Goggles for example, and all the magic can take place there.
Doing all this might seem too processor intensive to be accomplished in real time, but in fact, TV companies like Samsung and LG have been using this technique in their 3D TVs for years now. The DJI patent also talks about using IMU data from the drone to generate faster and more accurate results.
We now know that it’s possible to get a 3D image from the DJI Spark by converting the video from 2D to 3D inside the DJI Goggles.
We also know that the Spark will have a two axis gimbal.
We know that the drone will be small with fast moving propellers, which means it should be pretty stable even without a third axis on the gimbal. So what does all this mean?
It means there’s no reason why the Spark can’t have the first truly immersive VR experience, where you can turn your head and look around, while also seeing everything in 3D as if you were actually in the sky. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Spark didn’t even come with a controller because, for this kind of flying, you really wouldn’t need one!
You could plan your flight route on your phone and go along for a ride, or maybe use the sensors in your smartphone to control the direction of the drone.
Remember those four gold squares on the bottom of the spark?
Well DJI has also filed patents talking about battery exchanging base stations, where a drone could automatically land, charge or swap the battery, and take off again without you needing to lift a finger.
This patent was filed many years ago and has gone through over five revisions (the latest one being on March 30th).
The Spark may not have full obstacle avoidance, but the patent does mention using visual markers which could help guide the Spark into its docking station.
All of this sounds expensive, but it’s really not. Because of how the Spark is designed, it would be relatively cheap to manufacture.
The base station and goggles would drive up the cost, but I don’t think that the drone, base station and goggles together would cost more than around $1200.
I would think of the base station and goggles as an accessory though. You could get just the drone for around $600, then get the other stuff when you’re ready.
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