By Jonathon Brearley
The DJI FPV drone is surprisingly easy to fly when compared to the Mavic Air or Air 2. Perhaps because of its nippy and nimble controls, or its ability to make tighter turns, my confidence in flight was significantly heightened. Even with the Mavic Air 2 in sport mode, the power and agility of the FPV system is what defines it. The FPV system’s precise navigation makes it feel extremely easy to position the drone in the sky, especially when flying line-of-site. Of course, with this drone, the intention is not to fly line-of-sight at all; the intention is to use the superb first-person-view (FPV) goggles that provide the pilot with a high definition stream of the 122˚ FOV drone camera. These goggles are so immersive, I found myself swaying back and forth, tilting my head with the roll, pitch, and yaw of the drone as you might do in an airplane or a roller coaster. If you’ve had dreams of being a bird, free to roam the skies, this might be the closest you’ll get to living them with your feet planted safely on the ground. It’s slightly uncanny how natural the flight felt, especially the ability to assess depth and proximity of obstacles through the goggles, something I do not find easy to do while flying other phone-screen operated drones.
A word to the ease of use of this aircraft: seamless. Initially, I was concerned that it might take 20 to 30 minutes to configure and set up the whole system. Not so. If you are familiar with any of the DJI systems, it is as easy as attaching the props, two press-and-holds, and the drone is ready to fly. There is only one downside to how powerful this drone is – flight time. With our one battery included with the review unit, low temperatures of early spring in Cambridge, Massachusetts and zealous zipping around, flight times didn’t last much longer than 10 minutes. But having spare batteries certainly will solve that.
In my mind, among many other possibilities, we’re interested in the applications of this system beyond hobby flying and drone racing: one is in film and the other is the architecture and construction industry.
An application where the FPV drone would shine is in capturing action/extreme sports, (I’m thinking skiing, surfing, mountain biking, sailing, etc.). Whether used for a feature film, a more quotidian shorter format online video, or for internal review, it would be completely reasonable to think that athletes and coaches could find a tool like this extremely valuable. While a consumer or prosumer drone could do this, the agility and speed of the FPV system make it particularly attractive for this application.
A second application in the film industry is in fast action shots. Picture incredible FPV shots flying up and down canyons, waterfalls and bridges, even through city streets. Traditional FPV drones that are capable of capturing that sort of footage take many hours of flight and pilot experience to get smooth, usable footage. This system, using the intelligence of the DJI flight controls, opens up a whole style of shot at a lower cost and flight experience threshold. In many ways, this drone seems poised to popularize that style.
I also wonder, the drone aside, does the use of the FPV goggles have an application in the film industry for the director and their team? Rather than using a monitor to view the shot, could you image a camera operator, DP or director using FPV goggles on set?
From an architecture student’s perspective, the use of drones has proven extremely formative and valuable. The ability to explore a potential site in real time, to film and photograph it, and even use photogrammetry to create a 3D model from the footage, makes the design process easier and more informed.
The real power of this system is not only in the ability to record and capture footage of a site to review later, but also in the capability to explore in real-time and in an extremely immersive way. For the majority of build sites, a visit on foot or by car could be sufficient. But when considering building sites that are remote, forested, or otherwise difficult to access, this type of drone would be extremely useful.
One of the most robust applications for this system is in construction management and construction administration. From both a contractor and an architect’s perspective, the ability to easily and precisely investigate difficult to access areas of a building under construction would be extremely convenient. Imagine a scenario with a question about the facade detail on a construction site. As part of the construction RFI (request for information), the construction manager would include drone footage and images from the area in question to the architect. In another scenario, the architects, upon arriving for a site visit, might begin with a short drone sweep to check progress. This is where the goggle sharing and second monitor feature become especially handy. One pilot might fly through the goggles and a team of others could watch on a second monitor and ask to be shown other angles or parts of the site.
The DJI FPV system would enable easy capture of interior “walkthroughs” of spaces for clients and architects alike. Digital flythrough renderings are a popular way of presenting a project to clients because, unlike still images, they produce a cohesive understanding of how spaces flow together. Capturing a walkthrough video of a built building would be an excellent way to communicate a firm’s design logic to future clients and help them experience spaces that have been successfully brought to completion. This includes transitions from exterior to interior, interior to interior, and interior to exterior shots that tell a story of spatial relationships. The FPV is well-suited for this kind of walk-through because the flight control is optimized for dexterity and forward movement compared to the Mavic’s tamer flight control that favors open space.
It is important to note that in all of these applications, precautions are needed to assure the safety of everyone in the immediate context. A spotter is essential when the pilot is wearing the FPV goggles. The spotter is there to warn of any obstacles outside of the, albeit extremely wide, field of view. In the standard system, the props do not have a cage that could help protect subjects and objects from a collision.
The DJI FPV is an impressive system that has a convincing number of applications. It seems there is lots to look forward to beyond the racing space, especially when considering camera sensor expertise at DJI. It’s not hard to dream of a future iterations of this drone that include a “cinema” camera on a 3-axis gimbal, like the Mavic, in addition to the current single axis FPV camera—giving you the best of both worlds.
Jonathon Brearley is a Master of Architecture Candidate at the MIT School of Architecture. His love of the architectural plan pairs well with his enthusiasm for flying drones to explore his surroundings from the sky.