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Test Drive

Satisfying Our Drone Envy with the DJI Mavic Pro

We have always wanted to have a high-end professional drone of our own. However, our collective flying skills are so horrible that we were afraid to shell out the necessary cash for a state-of-the-art drone just to crash it and lose our money.

But when we went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, our jaws dropped at the sight of the DJI Mavic Pro. We had to have one, and that was all there was to it. So we dropped the $1,000 — and it was a great decision.

When we unpacked our drone upon its arrival, we marveled at its form factor. The entire drone is compact and portable, folding up into a small package about the size of a Subway sandwich. (You can buy a small pouch to carry it.) It is also very easy to fly. We will admit to studying the user’s guide in detail for fear that we would crash our new toy, but actually, piloting the Mavic Pro is very intuitive and easy to learn.

HOW IT’S DONE

All you have to do is unfold the remote and attach your smartphone to it, make the connection between the remote controller and the drone, and then start up the DJI GO 4 app on your smartphone. Pushing the “home” button on the smartphone screen allows you to instruct the Mavic Pro where “home” is. Magically, the Mavic Pro then knows the exact location for its return. You then press another button telling the drone to take off. Once you confirm that you’re sure, you slide the control on your phone's screen to make the drone lift off. It will hover about 5 feet off the ground, awaiting your commands from the remote control and smartphone. Then things get really interesting.

We took the Mavic Pro out to Bill’s farm and flew it to follow the path of the Big Hickory Creek behind the farmhouse. The image from the Mavic Pro’s 4K, 20-megapixel camera was stunning on the smartphone.

We flew the drone so far along Big Hickory Creek that we could no longer see it. We could only watch the camera image on the smartphone to determine its location. After we had flown the drone about a mile away from us, we lost our nerve and used the controls to turn it around and bring it back. It supposedly has a 4-mile range, can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour, and can fly for about 30 minutes on a single battery charge — but we weren’t ready to test its limits.

The camera footage was stunning. The DJI GO 4 smartphone app allowed us to edit the video and add music from the built-in music library.

During the drone’s journey back, it stopped and announced over the speaker on our smartphone that it had encountered an obstacle. It appeared to us that it was too close to a tree branch, so we merely commanded the Mavic Pro to go up another 10 or 20 feet and then had it continue flying. It resumed its flight path. Then, as we could hear the drone coming before we saw it, we touched the home button on the smartphone screen to command the Mavic Pro to return home. Dutifully, it headed back to the spot we had designated as “home.”

Once there, it hovered 5 feet over the ground and asked, via the screen on the smartphone, if we wanted to land. We answered “yes,” and it touched down perfectly. Miraculously, we had flown the Mavic Pro without any damage to the drone whatsoever.

OUR THOUGHTS

We then downloaded the camera footage and watched it on a 4K laptop screen. Suffice it to say, the video was stunning. The DJI GO 4 smartphone app allowed us to edit the video and add music from the built-in music library — our selection seemed appropriate for a video of Big Hickory Creek during a flood stage. We marveled at the ease of the editing and soundtracking.

We were only able to test out a few of the many neat features on the Mavic Pro. You can enable automated flight modes. You can fine-tune the obstacle avoidance system (although the default worked incredibly well). You can instruct the Mavic Pro to fly around a point of interest in a perfect circle. You can instruct the Mavic Pro to fly a preset pattern. You can instruct it to follow you, another person or any other moving object, such as a car or even a deer or coyote, wherever it goes.

The return-home feature is quite impressive. We didn’t test this, but if communication between the Mavic Pro and its remote is disrupted, the drone will automatically return to its takeoff point and land. If the Mavic Pro is running low on battery power, it will return home before it runs out of juice.

You can also fly the Mavic Pro without the remote controller and simply use your smartphone. You have to switch the drone to fly via Wi-Fi controls from your smartphone. This feature, along with the so-called Tripod Mode, will allow you to fly the drone indoors without endangering yourself or the people around you. With a little practice, we think we can fly the Mavic Pro at our next Bill and Phil Show. If you come see us, don’t forget to duck!

About the Author

William Ramsey, Partner at Neal & Harwell, and Phil Hampton, Consulting President of LogicForce, are best known for The Bill and Phil Show.

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