The Drone You Command With a Wave of Your Hand

The Mavic Pro introduces point and click control, minus the click.

Follow me, Mavic. (DJI)

In a few weeks, the world’s leading consumer drone manufacturer, DJI, will release its latest offering, the Mavic Pro. The quadcopter’s new features prove that drones are becoming smarter at the same time as they’re getting much easier to operate.

One of the most impressive new features is gesture control, where some of the drone’s camera functions can be controlled by simply gesturing with hands and arms, as demonstrated in this presentation: 

These intelligent capabilities come thanks to a combination of mechanisms, beginning with raw data created by two ultrasonic range finders, five navigation and obstacle avoidance cameras, and GPS receivers. These data allow the Mavic Pro to perform complex semi-autonomous and fully autonomous flight maneuvering, enabled in part by a pair of “Myriad 2 vision processing units” made by Movidius. This pioneer in computer vision technology, soon to be owned by Intel, has worked with DJI for years to build enhanced flying capability for drones. Working in concert with the vision processing units, the central processor of the Mavic Pro, which is far more powerful than multimillion-dollar supercomputers from just a few years past, controls flight, communication, and the drone’s camera.

All this processing power allows users of the Mavic Pro to take photos of themselves with a wave of their hands and arms—with an ever increasing range of controls through gesturing to come in the future. Other smart drones like the 3D Robotics Solo Drone and the AirDog have a “follow me” feature, but they require the target to be carrying a transmitter, and only the Mavic Pro has gesture control.

The Mavic Pro also allows professional quality, fully stabilized 4K video to be shot by just one untrained user, who can leave the controller on the ground after setting up the scene and have the drone follow and get footage of the user. Previously such shots required a seasoned pilot and seasoned camera operator, flying equipment that cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars (the Mavic Pro costs $999).

Most importantly, the debut of the Mavic Pro might mark the point where drones became truly mainstream, much like the Apple II heralded the opening of the mainstream personal computer era. When Apple released that computer in 1977, they hailed it as an “extraordinary computer for ordinary people.” The same could be said about the Mavic Pro in the world of drones. 

Other new and improved features that make the Mavic Pro the most advanced consumer drone include obstacle avoidance, terrain following, auto takeoff and auto land (within a few inches of the point of takeoff), and the ability to track a person, animal, or object on the ground, and even circle the target, while moving. This lets you create dramatic aerial cinematic footage with the drone’s onboard high resolution video / still camera. These are just some of the smart features the Mavic packs in its 1.6-pound (including battery) body, which can be folded up for compact storage.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, The Final Flight of Extortion 17 (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the story of the people and circumstances of Extortion 17 and its downing in Afghanistan in August 2011. The shootdown was the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue. See his website and Facebook page for more information.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus