DJI Phantom 4 drone uses computer vision to follow subjects

DJI has released the $1399 Phantom 4, the latest model in its Phantom line of quadcopters. With this iteration, the company has added some autonomous features that should benefit experienced operators and drone newbies alike. The biggest upgrade on this drone may be its obstacle-detection features. When a pilot is controlling the Phantom 4 manually, the drone is designed to stop short of an oncoming obstacle and hover in place.

The Phantom 4 also introduces a new "ActiveTrack" mode that allows the drone to follow a subject around while keeping them in the picture. Operators need only identify a subject using DJI's iOS or Android app, and the drone does the rest. The company says ActiveTrack is made possible by a combination of "computer vision, object recognition and machine learning," but it's mum on the computing hardware that makes that mode work.

The Phantom 4's operator can also send the drone on its way within a certain radius just by tapping a desired destination on the drone's video feed—a feature DJI calls "TapFly." The Phantom 4 will then automatically create an optimal flight path and embark on its journey, flying over or under obstacles as needed. The company says this feature negates the need for operators to control altitude, speed, and direction with the drone's control sticks.

As for the Phantom 4's specs, the aircraft is capable of an impressive top speed of 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour), and it can reach a claimed altitude ceiling of 3.7 miles (six kilometers). The airframe packs a 5350-mAh battery that's purportedly good for up to 28 minutes of flight time. The drone's 12MP gimbaled camera is capable of shooting 4K video at 30 frames per second, and 1080p video at up to 120 fps. Its obstacle-sensing system has a sensory range of 6.9 to 160 feet, (two to 49 meters). The Phantom 4 can perform position tracking using GPS and GLONASS.

DJI is taking pre-orders for the Phantom 4 through its own storefront and Apple stores. Shipments are supposed to begin by March 15.

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