Intelligent Flight Modes (IFM) for DJI Phantoms & Inspire one.

Three days ago during the IFA in Berlin, a global trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. DJI announced that they would be releasing a new firmware update for both their DJI Phantom series and Inspire One on September 7th.

In this update they are introducing a series of what they call “Intelligent Flight Modes”. These modes are introduced after 3DR released their drone the 3DR Solo with modes like these “pre-installed”.

A very good response from DJI to include them in their series as well. Lets go through all the modes that have been introduced and put some real world examples next to them to see how useful they really are. Do we need all of them? Or are they just gimmicks to stay on top of the competition.

The Intelligent Flight Modes are as follows;

  1. Follow Me
  2. Waypoints
  3. Point of Interest
  4. Course Lock
  5. Home Lock

Follow Me Mode

DJI Introduces them as follows;

Waypoints – Capturing the perfect aerial manoeuvre just got a lot easier. Record a complex flight path and watch your aerial camera fly to the same locations automatically at a customisable speed. Users can adjust the angle of the camera while it’s on its autonomous flight to capture the perfect shot. Specific flight paths can be saved for repeat missions to capture the same angle across times of day or across multiple times per year.

Point of Interest – Get sweeping aerial shots like never before. Set a point, altitude, distance and speed and your aerial camera will automatically fly around an object, person or place with the lens perfectly angled to keep the point in the center of the frame. This makes it simple to get cinematic aerial shots that were previously difficult to capture.

Follow Me – Using the transmitter and phone as a beacon, Follow Me allows the Phantom 3 to follow the beacon at a fixed altitude and distance. Follow me is the perfect tool for pilots to get footage of themselves mountain biking, driving or jogging in wide open areas. Available only for the Phantom 3 Professional, Advanced and Standard

Course Lock – One of the biggest challenges for first time pilots is figuring out flight orientation when their aerial camera is turned around. Setting course lock makes all flight control relative to the platform’s current heading, so left is always left even if the camera is pointing another direction.

Home Lock – Keeping orientation at a great distance is a challenge. By switching into home lock, pilots can ensure that orientation is always relative to themselves as a home point, making it easy to figure out how to fly back home.

Let see what real world uses we can come up with for these new features.

Waypoints could be really helpful when you are in an area trying to shoot something that requires dead steady flying and precision camera control. For example you want to fly through a field of wind turbines while tilting up and down over various turbines. To do this smoothy you would fly the path you want your drone to fly while setting the waypoints in the mean time. (DJI requires you to fly to fly to your waypoints before you can set them. This obviously has safety in mind making sure the drone cannot fly into trees, building and other obstacles during it’s waypoint flight) When you’ve done this you’ll be able to have the drone fly it’s path incredibly accurate while you control the camera.

Another good example would be mapping an area over a certain amount to time (weeks to months to years) While mapping out an area with your drone you can set waypoints at the same time. Weeks later you can return to the same spot and have the drone do the same mapping manoeuvres to create a highly accurate and similar mapping which in turn you can compare to the old one to look for changes.

Point of Interest is quite possibly the most requested IFM of them all. And for good reason, a lot of DJI Pilots have a hard time trying to fly perfect circles around objects. This often leads to frustration and non professional looking shots in the final edits. Point of Interest solves this problem by eliminating the need for the user to handle the rotation himself. Now your drone will do it for you. Obvious uses are flying it around big landmarks and getting big open rotations to enhance the quality of your footage. All while you take a relaxing brake from your work (with your hand still on the control of course ;-).

Follow Me has spurred up quite a bit of commotion, I think this features should not have been included in the IFM options. This feature has a lot of potential to do more harm then good. Hear me out, While in the hand of professionals drones are being operated safely and securely following the rules & regulations of drone avionics. However this feature will not be used by most or even any professional (most likely the reason it is not included in the Inspire One update). The reason is that no-one will deem it responsible to put their drone up in the air, step in their car, on their bike, in their canoe, or any other form of transportation and head off with their controller next to them, strapped on their back or handle bars,etc. One of the first things you learn about flying drones is always keep your hands on the controller. For good reason, you always need to be able to make adjustments at a moments notice to prevent damage or failure in certain situations. I feel that Follow Me mode encourages pilots to take their hand of their controller and concentrate on other things (like driving) with the potential risk of damaging their drone or worst something or somebody else. When flying your drone you should ALWAYS be a 100% concentrated on flying.

Course Lock is marketed by DJI for beginner pilots, where left will always be left and right always be right. To me Course Lock is a way to open up new camera movements. I would compare this feature most to the cable cam smart mode of the 3DR Solo. You able to lock in the course that your drone is flying lets call this course the ‘cable course’. What this means is whatever you do after that flying forward or sideways will always be in the direction of the ‘cable course’ thus giving you the ability to control the drone more for the camera position then the actual flying path. This is something that would be very useful during a downhill mountain bike course or even a slope style snowboard session. Where the drone generally needs to fly a straight line and the camera can be used to frame the shot better.

Home Lock is the ideal way to bring your drone back in for landing, this feature makes sure your drone will always fly back to you when you pull on the backwards or ‘reverse’ stick. Perfect for when you flew a great distance and lost sight of your drone, or maybe when you have a video signal breakup. Knowing that when you pull on the backwards stick it flies straight to you is a peaceful thought.

For me, Waypoints and Course Lock along with Point of Interest are the real winners here. These are features I will probably be using on a more regular basis. Home Lock will be super helpful for beginners to easily get their craft back and for us professionals it’s great when we lose Line of Sight (LOS). Personally you won’t be seeing me use follow me mode. I have no use for it and hopefully nobody else will either. For reasons I’ve stated before.

I hope you found this helpful. As always, you can write me at rik[at]sesh.tv or comment below with any questions.

Written by Rik Roukens
Rik created his personal blog to help people prevent the mistakes he made in the 5+ years he has been flying. His other passions are Photography & videography. Email him anytime @ rik[at]sesh[.]tv or tweet him at @rroukens