Today we will be looking at obstacle avoidance on the Phantom 4.
I’m going to start off by talking about something that most people don’t really think about. Why do you need obstacle avoidance? You don’t. Technically there’s no reason for you to have obstacle avoidance on the new Phantom 4, especially when you only get the ability to avoid obstacles in the front of the drone. Most people are not going to run into something that they can clearly see in front of them, and will never really use obstacle avoidance on the Phantom 4 when flying around in a normal way.
So why have obstacle avoidance? Because obstacle avoidance isn’t designed for you. It was designed for the drone to use as a pair of eyes to help comprehend the world around it. Instead of calling the new feature of the Phantom 4 obstacle avoidance, we should probably call it something like drone sight, or machine vision technology. DJI understands this. That’s most likely why they named their Phantom 4 teaser video “Return To Your Senses”. Right now, machine vision technology is only being used for Active Track and obstacle avoidance, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other uses for having a drone with eyes. I can’t say for sure what DJI is planning to do with the Phantom 4 this year, but I know that in the next 2 years, DJI drones are going to do a lot more than stop you from hitting a wall. In fact, they already do.
Just a few days ago, there was an update for the DJI Phantom 4 that completely changed how I feel about Active Track. Today, while testing out Tap Fly I discovered a new feature in the DJI go app that wasn’t there just one day before. It was the ability to navigate around obstacles horizontally. You could already do this using Tap Fly, but I didn’t find Tap Fly all that useful so I wasn’t very excited about it. Tap Fly is a cool thing to try but it’s just not for me. After seeing this new feature in the app, I decided to give it a shot and try running around a few trees. At first I was very careful and basically walked through everything. I had to build up at least a little bit of confidence in the system before running strait under trees while it followed me. I found that it always stopped, but didn’t really try going around obstacles like I hoped.
When Things Get Interesting
After getting comfortable, I started running through any tree I could find. That’s when the Phantom 4 really surprised me. The faster I went, the better it was able to go around the trees instead of just stopping. Eventually I was running fast enough where the Phantom 4 started looking like a it was being piloted by a human! Id did still occasionally stop, but most of the time it was because it physically couldn’t see me under the trees. Some times it did actually manage to fly around a tree while not even being able to properly see me. After getting over the fact that I was letting my expensive drone come closer to obstacles than I myself would, it felt like I was really living what DJI has portrayed in their Phantom 4 adds.
Using obstacle avoidance while flying manually works pretty good. The only things that it can’t see that well are really thin low contrast objects like telephone lines, thin ropes and small sticks. It can even avoid flying into another Phantom 4 (we did test this), but I wouldn’t try that without DJI care for obvious reasons!
To end the review of the day, I have to say that I’m really impressed with what these tiny cameras can do on the Phantom 4. Even right after the sun sets, the obstacle avoidance seems to work just fine. I would never try running into something at night in the dark, but in a brightly lit area it seems to do great.