Hands-On With DJI’s New Inspire One Transforming Drone

Drones Drones & Vehicles Robotics
Hands-On With DJI’s New Inspire One Transforming Drone
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DJI’s latest quadcopter is one of the most impressive flying rigs we’ve yet to see.

A couple days after last week’s announcement of the Inspire One, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging Eric Cheng brought one of the test units to the Make: offices to show us its capabilities. The drone is quite a step up from the ubiquitous DJI Phantom — most notably in its physical design, with an ominous white fuselage and glowing red lights mounted to an articulating carbon fiber frame. The booms are angled down as landing gear during takeoff and landing, but pull upwards into a V-shape during flight to move them out of view and lower the rig’s center of gravity.

The Inspire sports large 13″ props coupled to powerful brushless motors. The pop-in-place battery carries 22 volts of juice – more than most cordless power tools sport. Downward-facing sensors optically track the terrain to help the craft stay in a fixed position during flight, even when GPS signals drop out, and help with soft, automatic landing and takeoff. And a bottom-mounted camera and gimbal rig allows for 4k video and 12 megapixel stills, capable of unobstructed views from any angle during flight. With its built-in Lightbridge wireless transmission capability, the footage is instantly viewable in high-definition on your radio-mounted tablet.

All of these pieces add up to an overpowered aircraft in a small, sleek package. At $2900, it’s not cheap, but it lives up to its cost with performance. During flight tests, Eric whipped the Inspire up from a low hover to a lofty perch with incredible speed. More impressively is how responsive its electronic speed controllers are, stopping the quad as quickly as it jetted off.

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The company has really dialed in the camera and gimbal aspect as well. Its lightweight form means the camera needs less effort to keep steady. With the Lightbridge transmission, this becomes very apparent, especially when put into the fixed-point mode, where the camera maintains focus on a certain spot no matter how the drone moves in the air. While moving and spinning in the air, the tablet screen showed what seemed to be a still image of the neighborhood, until I realized the cars on the street were moving. We were flying on a fairly windy day, as you’ll see in our ground-based video. It took quite a bit of in-air thrashing to get the camera to register movement, and even then still kept the horizon level.

The radio has been redesigned as well. The prototype unit we saw had a black case, but the official ones will be DJI’s standard white. Two standard sticks allow the pilot to move the quadcopter as usually seen, while various pushbuttons and jog dials on the top edge interface with the camera’s position and shutter. The radio also has HDMI output, and various other connectors for tablets and additional controllers (for two-pilot use, autopilot functions, and more).

Overall, it’s a system very much geared toward professional photographers and videographers. The camera resolution is catching up with that of GoPro, but the compressed HDMI keeps it still just a tad behind — although the lens selection gives a wider, more standard and useable perspective.

The immediate connection to the maker community is a little less obvious, but with a modular, quick-release camera system, and the amount of hacking and customizing that has happened in with the Phantom users, it won’t be surprising to find people adding their own touches to this.

Meanwhile, if the high price point make you nervous, follow our HandyCopter UAV how-to project from our Homegrown Drones issue, and build your own low-cost, gimbal-mounted quadcopter.

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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

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