DJI 360° camera drone
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DJI Phantom X: Fact or Fiction?

In November 2015 DJI “announced” the Phantom X. They published a YouTube video promoting the new drone, using actors and technology insiders to discuss the fictitious drone. Two years later the Phantom X still isn’t a product, but some of its features have already started to creep into other DJI Drones. We will walk you through feature-by-feature to see which features are real, which are likely in the works, and which are science fiction. Join over one million other people and watch the video if you haven’t already.

Phantom X Obstacle Avoidance

DJI has made a big push into obstacle avoidance in the last year, making them the world leader in this area for drones. All of their recently released drones, including the tiny Spark, include some kind of obstacle avoidance system. The systems generally work very well but are only active on some sides of the drone and they have their limitations. Obstacle avoidance tends to be very conservative, stopping the drone when it has even a small chance of coming near an object. These systems can miss very small objects, however, so they are not fool-proof.

DJI Mavic vs Spark

The Spark uses Infrared sensors for forward obstacle avoidance while the Mavic uses stereo cameras.

The obstacle avoidance seen in the Phantom X video is clearly a step above what is currently available in the market. The Phantom X is shown zooming in and out of trees and narrowly missing branches. We hope obstacle avoidance can be this good someday, but it’s just not there yet.

The Phantom X at full tilt

The Phantom X at full tilt

We think DJI will double down on infrared obstacle avoidance in the future. This has been a clear trend in the recent releases of the Phantom 4 Pro and the Spark. Our Phantom X concept drone has two IR sensor on both the front and the back and one on each side of the drone. The side sensors would be similar to the Phantom 4 Pro, while the multiple forward and rear sensors are positioned to provide better coverage when the drone is pitched at different angles.

Obstacle avoidance is becoming commonplace but still has room to grow

360° Camera Drone

While the video makes no claims, it is pretty clear to us that the Phantom X needs to be a 360° camera drone. If you look at how low the bottom camera is hung it just isn’t low enough to avoid seeing the props when the drone is flying at any kind of speed.

Is this the next Phantom from DJI

We created a model of what we think DJI’s first 360° camera drone will look like and we dedicated an article to discuss how it will all work. Our concept has a single upward-looking camera with a field of view that would approach 180 degrees.

Three bottom-facing cameras of a drone-mounted 360° camera system

A 360° camera drone may include 1, 2, 3, or even more cameras under the drone. A replaceable protective dome protects the cameras.

There are 3 bottom-facing cameras in our design but there could be just one super wide angle camera, or any number of cameras really. The DJI Spark can already record 180° pano images, that’s just one of the reasons why we think DJI is making a move into 360° cameras.

360° Cameras are becoming commonplace but we have not seen one successful on a drone. DJI is going to do it.

Painting With a Drone – Gesture Control

The Phantom X claims to be controlled with a single gloved hand using gesture control. In the video, a young lady makes “paintings in the sky” using two drones that she controls by waving her hands around. The end result is by no means a painting, but we came pretty close to painting with a drone using a much simpler and more effective approach. We used a $50 LED drone to make fantastic long exposure light paintings. You can learn more about creating art with the inexpensive Halo 3000 in our article dedicated to light painting with drones.

Halo 3000 light painting

Gesture control hasn’t progressed very far but you can make beautiful light paintings with a $50 drone.

The DJI Spark is currently the most advanced drone on the market when it comes to gesture control. We won’t dive in too deep, but suffice it to say that the technology is very far from advancing to the point shown in the Phantom X video.

Gesture control technology is unreliable and short range.

 

 

 

The Toss Launch

The Phantom X video shows users casually throwing their prized possession in the air rather than taking off from the ground. Ironically, the only drones that can do this today are the least expensive fully manual drones that don’t have GPS or even altitude hold features. Fully-featured drones like those made by DJI don’t have the “toss launch” figured out yet.

DJI Phantom X video toss

Tossing expensive drones in the air is going to happen. But will you risk it?

The closest thing DJI has to a toss launch is a palm launch. I guess they figure that the tiny Spark is safe enough for most people handle while the props are spinning. We do think this feature is possible and could be coming soon. Accelerometers can sense weightlessness and turn the props on to initiate flight. So while toss launch doesn’t exist yet, we are sure it’s not science fiction. Is there a real need for this though? The need is not so clear.

Drone tossing could be here soon.

 

 

 

Multi-Drone Coordination

Imagine a world where drones can swarm together as an autonomous fleet or move in patterns to spell words in the sky. That world already exists. Intel has led the way in drone light shows where hundreds of drones move in a choreographed show. Others have done the same with Parrot Bebops. The US military is experimenting with autonomous fleets of fixed-wing drones.

intel drone light show

Intel creates light shows using 100s of drones

The Phantom X video shows several drones circling a moving object to capture video from all angles. We don’t think this kind of coordination is far off. Drones from several manufacturers are capable of tracking or following GPS beacons or visual targets. We don’t really see a huge use case for this feature or for the drones coordinating with each other, but it wouldn’t be very difficult to implement given what is already on the market.

Autonomous multi-drone video capture would be pretty trivial to implement using today’s technology.

 

 

 

Retractable Legs

Unless you are a drone novice you are probably aware of drones that have lifting legs. The two most well known are probably the DJI Inspire 2 and the Yuneec Typhoon series. We have never seen a Phantom-sized drone from DJI with retractable legs except for in the Phantom X Video.

The DJI Phantom X with the legs up and down

The legs on the Phantom X can retract for an unobscured picture and deploy to protect the camera system during takeoff and landing.

There are a few ways to deal with the legs on a 360° camera drone. The Phantom X shown in the video is clearly using retractable legs. Another method is to not use legs at all. Recent patent filings demonstrate that the camera could be mounted on a moving structure that stows the cameras for takeoff and landing.

Drone with removable camera that can be stowed

This image from a patent filing suggests a 360° camera that can retract for landing and then be removed!

Retractable legs are pretty well established but we have yet to see it on a 360° camera drone like the Phantom X. A stowing camera approach to a drone like this would be a first.

Conclusion

The Phantom X concept drone is an awesome idea. Of all the new concepts shown in their video the ones we are most excited about are a 360° camera drone and lifting legs on a Phantom. We would not be surprised if we see the Phantom X (or whatever the name ends up being) released in the next year. We can’t wait.

DJI 360° camera drone top and bottom views

A Phantom X concept viewed from the top and the bottom

 

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Half Chrome • November 28, 2017


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