I still have not gotten my hands on a DJI Phantom vision yet but I am starting to get more excited about it after I read this press release from DJI this morning:
"Dear DJI Dealers & Customers,
We are very excited to announce that with a firmware update, the Phantom 2 Vision will be able to capture and store pictures in Adobe DNG RAW format in-camera. The update will be released in late December.
Additionally, a separate firmware and mobile phone App update will be released providing the Phantom 2 Vision with Ground Station capabilities including waypoint editing and autonomous waypoint navigation. The update will be released around the end of December or early January."
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This update might make the Vision one of the most accessible autonomous platforms available for aerial photography. If you were starting an aerial photography business (remember I don't own one yet) this would probably be the one to start with. The ability to fly this out of the box with a good camera, way points, live video down link, gps stability and even a mount for your iPhone.
There is another feature that I really like about the Phantom Vision - battery pods. In some ways this is frustrating because it means it is more expensive to buy extra batteries but it will be so much easier to swap things out. It is a step in the right direction. The battery for the vision is over 5000mah or almost double the capacity of the original phantom. They claim it will fly for 25 minutes and maybe it could safely do 15, but regardless it is a huge improvement over the flight time of the original phantom with gimbal / gopro of around 6 safe minutes.
I have a big move coming up in January when I will be moving my family to Hawaii for a year. I plan on getting one of these when I get over and I will start putting it through its paces. I am excited to start testing and using the autonomous features built into this copter. I can already imagine using this to photography whales from the air, getting pictures of difficult to reach water falls, and maybe even start working on some drone delivery concepts I have in the back of my brain.
You have surely seen the brief ad for Amazon Prime Air that features an octocopter delivering a package from Amazon directly to a customers doorstep. This is cool and you want to know what it would take to pull it off or maybe just understand the technology a little better. This is closer and cheaper than you might expect, just depending on what functionality you need. In fact, back in September I wrote a blog post and thought about the big picture things you would need for an entire functioning drone delivery. This post is more about just automating a remote control helicopter to drop a package off at your friends house who lives a few miles away.
So what exactly do you need to do if you want to fly a small package across your hood and drop it somewhere?
1) You need a helicopter or multicopter of some sort. Amazon is using an octocopter and my guess is that each one of these can easily fly 5 kilogram payloads. They can surely lift more than that, but flight time and maneuverability might suffer. If you could live with carrying an egg your aircraft requirements would be really simple. If you want to carry a heavier load, I would recommend the DJI S800.
2) You need an autonomous autopilot. There are two systems that are easy to use and work off the shelf 3drobotics ArduCopter and the DJI WKM and Naza V2.
3) You need a ground station that can receive and send telemetry information. With the DJI stuff, you can just use an iPad to upload your coordinates.
This is the basic setup for flying autonomous drone delivery. There are many issues to still be worked out, but this is closer than you think. The delays are not really technology related, they are more related to how the FAA is going to choose to deal with this. If you want an off the shelf option, try out the DJI Phantom Vision.