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While I Was Running a Marathon, NAB Show Debuted New DJI Phantom 3 and 3DR Solo Quadcopters

Light meets dark

While I was enjoying the sights of Paris during the 2015 Paris Marathon, two remarkable quadcopter technologies from DJI and 3D Robotics were introduced at NAB Show. What is NAB Show? It is a yearly conference where content creators, both pro and amateur, come together see first hand emerging technologies and learn about latest innovations. For a tech geek like myself, it is Nirvana. However, this year Paris had my attention.

Both DJI and 3D Robotics introduced tech-loaded quadcopters at NAB. Since investing in a DJI Phantom 2 last year, I’ve been able to explore new areas of photography and videography and I’m delighted with the content I’ve created with the DJI Phantom 2.  However, I’ve experienced frustration with not having an FPV (First Person View) which would give me an added layer of safety and take my video/photography skills to a higher level.  Sadly, I have experienced a couple of crashes and a fly-away of the Phantom 2. The technology is not quite perfected and a $1100 investment is not so easily replaced. Before re-investing in this technology to gain the FPV and upgraded technology, I plan to carefully investigate both products offered by DJI and 3D Robotics.

Without FPV, all my flights are strickly line-of-sight. I’ve posted my videos on SkyPixel for your perusal.

To help organize my thoughts and compare the technology offered by both quadcopter companies, I’ve created a ‘cheat sheet’ of sorts within this blog post. For each quadcopter, I included informative links, introductory videos, spec lists and my questions and concerns about both quadcopters. Right now, I am undecided between the two quadcopters. It is my intention that this post will serve to educate readers on the pros and cons of both products and maybe inspire someone to start creating. The world needs more creators!

 

DJI Phantom 3

US $1259.00

DJI Phantom 3 Professional with 4K Camera and Battery (B&H)

Gimbal Stabilized 4K Camera
Vision Sensor for Indoor Flight
Includes 1 Intelligent Flight Battery
Mobile Device Holder Included

SPECS for Professional with 4K Camera:

Weight (Including Battery And Propellers)
1280 g
Diagonal Size (Including Propellers)
590 mm
Max Ascent Speed
5 m/s
Max Descent Speed
3 m/s
Hover Accuracy
Vertical: +/- 10cm
Horizontal: +/- 1m
Max Speed
16 m/s (ATTI mode, no wind)
Max Altitude Above Sea Level
6000 m
Operating Temperature
0°C to 40°C
GPS Mode
GPS/GLONASS

Intelligent Flight Battery
Capacity
4480 mAh
Voltage
15.2 V
Battery Type
LiPo 4S
Energy
68 Wh
Net Weight
365 g
Max Flight Time
Approximately 23 minutes
Operating Temperature
-10°C to 40°C
Max Charging Power
100 W

Phantom 3 Professional Camera Settings:
UHD: 4096x2160p 24/25, 3840x2160p 24/25/30 (4K)
FHD: 1920x1080p 24/25/30/48/50/60
HD: 1280x720p 24/25/30/48/50/60

DJI Phantom 3 comes with a 1 year factory warranty.

What I like about this quadcopter is it’s all-in-one features of FPV, camera and ground sensor in one bundle. These are precisely the upgrades I was looking for in a quadcopter. Also, I like that there are camera controls on the pilot controller.

My concerns are with fly aways and crashes that have effected users of all evolutions of the Phantom. Already I am reading in DJI forums of several crashes of the DJI Phantom 3. DJI CEO Frank Wang is quoted in a recent Forbes article to have skipped the premier of the DJI Phantom 3 in April because the ‘product was not perfect’. This is truly disconcerting for me as a potential purchaser of the DJI Phantom to read the CEO isn’t quite confident the product is right for the market. Should I be concerned about the safety of flying this machine near people?

Along with safety, the camera performance is a crucial issue for me. I’m curious to see results of test footage of the DJI Phantom 3 compared to GoPro Hero.

There are many similarities between this quadcopter and the 3D Robotics Solo. What makes this product superior to Solo?

3D Robotics Solo Drone

US $1564.80. NOTE: This price does not include a GoPro as I already own the video camera.

3DR Solo Drone
GoPro 3-axis Gimbal
1 additional Battery pack
1 additional Set of Blades

SPECS:

Cameras: Compatible with GoPro® HERO3, 3+ and 4; optimized for HERO3+ and 4
Streaming video quality: 720p
Flight time: 25 minutes; 20 minutes with payload*
Range: .5 miles** (.8 km)
Max speed: 55 mph (89 km/h)
Max ascent speed: 10 m/s in stabilize mode; “fly” mode spec forthcoming
Max descent speed: ditto
Max payload: 420 g
Max altitude: 400 ft per FAA regulation, user adjustable (122 m)
Motors: 880 kV
Propellers: 10″ diameter 4.5″ pitch self-tightening (24 cm diameter 144 cm pitch)
Autopilot: Pixhawk 2
Software: APM:Copter
Communication: 3DR Link secure WiFi network
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Weight: 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) / 3.9 lbs. (1.8 kg) with GoPro® and Solo Gimbal
Dimensions: 10 in. tall (25 cm), 18 in. (46 cm) motor-to-motor
Flight battery: Lithium polymer 5200 mAh 14.8 Vdc
Battery charge time: ~1.5 hours
Controller battery: 2600 mAh 7.2 Vdc rechargeable lithium ion
App requirements: iOS 8.0 or later / Android 4.3 or later

Per 3D Robotics: “If the flight log shows that a system malfunction caused the loss of your copter—the dreaded “flyaway”—3DR will replace the copter and the gimbal if one was installed, and we’ll even give you credit to buy a new GoPro. We back this all up with a 30-day money-back guarantee. We take your satisfaction with our products really, really seriously.”

Questions:

1. How does the drone/operator calibrate the compass?
2. How many satellites does the drone lock before takeoff? Is there a RTH feature?
3. Can the operator download flight data for their own record keeping?
4. What type of flight training is provided?
5. Where can I go to chat with other Solo owners – forums, etc?
6. Is the controller compatible with iPhone 5s?
7. How many days will it take to install 3-axis gimbal? Be honest!

On paper there is a lot I like about this modular, open source quadcopter. There are a few items that stand out for me as a novice quadcopter enthusiast. The ability to control the GoPro camera from a mobile app while in flight ends the guessing game of getting the video or still image you envision. Also, the ability to use my GoPro camera. The panic button which 3D Robotics calls the ‘Pause’ button is a brilliant idea which adds an additional layer of safety during flight. As a novice, it is so easy to get disoriented with the controls when changing the camera direction, having the ability to pause would help tremendously in preventing your quadcopter from making friends with the nearest tree.  Auto return home without turning off the controller is a huge safety plus for me.  The follow me, cable cam, and orbit mode makes me want to fly one of these today.

My concern is that DJI has cultivated a stronger user group, what does 3D Robotics have in the way of training and customer outreach? Also, there is the concern that this product maybe overpromising – as discussed in an open letter to 3DR from Aerial Strategies.

I would like to see aerial footage from real product going to market not video shot with a pre-production model.  As for crashes or fly aways,  I will wait and see how the early adopters fare with this flying machine.

There are many similarities between the two quadcopters. What makes this quadcopter superior the DJI Phantom 3?

 
 

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  • rochester_veteran

    Good and informative article. I’d go with the 3D Robotics Solo, Tania. It cost more, but the guarantee of replacement of the quadcopter, gimbal and a credit towards a replacement GoPro in case of system caused “flyaway” is a nice offer. Also, both the copter and controller are running Linux.

    NAB 2015 – 3D Robotics Solo with Colin Guinn