Introduction - Are You Following Me?
Picture the scene: you're just about to reach the top of the mountain. The golden hour lighting is absolutely sublime. As you reach the peak, you've got the framing just right to capture the dramatic sunset. But suddenly you realize you can't actually get the epic shot of yourself that you envisaged because you're too busy controlling the drone.
To overcome this, drone manufacturers have developed automation features that take out a lot of the guesswork and are making aerial photography more and more intuitive. Drones that follow you let you make the most of your adventure without the worry of crashing your beloved drone because you're too focused on where you're going. Let's move on to look at how follow me drones actually work, what the difference is between models, and which is comes out on top.
1. How Do Follow Me Drones Work?
Drones that follow you are able to autonomously track a target, without having to be piloted. Currently there are two main technologies that are used in the follow me feature, most commonly found in quadcopter drones, and they work in different ways to allow drones to track objects autonomously and accurately.
1) GPS Tech
The earliest follow me drones were programmed to follow a GPS transmitter or Ground Station Controller (GSC) that users had to wear. This created a virtual tether between the user and the drone. This GPS transmitter is usually built into the remote controller, which then becomes required for the drone to follow you.
DJI first introduced follow me drones in 2015 with the Phantom 3 series. Its vast array of Intelligent Flight Modes include Follow Me, Course Lock, Waypoints, Home Lock, and Points of Interest. As with other GPS-based drones, the Phantom 3 requires a remote controller and the DJI GO app to enable Follow Me mode.
So why use GPS tech? The tracking accuracy of GPS tech is unrivaled, providing much better precision than other techs. However, a tracker/transmitter is always required for the system to work and obstacle avoidance is not a feature.
2) Vision Recognition Tech
Detecting objects, people, and obstacles through data captured by a camera has been used in robotics since the early 2000s. Due to its high requirements on computing, battery life, and safety, the tech has only been used in drones for the last few years.
In general, the vision recognition technology works as follows:
- The drone cameras and sensors collect image and sound data, which is then transmitted to the processor.
- With sufficient data, the processor identifies the background parts of the scene and locates any moving objects.
- As programmed, the aircraft starts to automatically follow the moving object.
Thanks to recent technological advances, this whole three-step process can now be completed within a matter of seconds on the latest models.
Besides speedy response time, vision recognition also has the advantages that it is able to track all types of moving objects, including cars, bikes, people, and animals, and does not require an external GPS tracker, instead using compatible software/app on the controlling device. Recognition accuracy, however, can be affected by lighting conditions and the contrast between areas in direct light and those in shadow.
To overcome the limitations of GPS and vision recognition systems, DJI combined the two technologies into the ActiveTrack system, realizing the best of both approaches.
2. On Track With DJI's ActiveTrack
The ActiveTrack feature was first introduced with the Phantom 4 series and represents the evolution of the Follow Me mode found on previous drones, vastly improving accuracy and user experience. It allows the user to mark and track multiple moving objects on the controlling device's screen without the need of an external tracking device.
Both GPS and vision recognition are utilized in the ActiveTrack feature to locate the drone itself, stabilize its flight, and navigate between obstacles. It has been such a success that it is available on almost all new drones released by DJI. The DJI GO 4 app has been specifically introduced for use with ActiveTrack, as shown here:
3. 6 Best Drones That Follow You (With Video Tests)
Let's move on to look at the best follow me drones, how their features differ, and which is best for specific scenarios.
1)The Mavic 2
The Mavic 2 is DJI's latest consumer drone with two powerful lens options: Pro and Zoom. As one of the newest drones on the market, it has some of the most cutting-edge functions, features, and technology available. It's also portable and dependable enough to be a top choice for both enthusiasts and professionals. (Read the Mavic 2 In-depth Review)
- Max. flight time: 31 minutes
- Max. speed: 44 mph (72 kph)
- Stabilization: 3-axis gimbal
- Pro Camera: Hasselblad L1D-20c Camera with 20 MP 1-inch CMOS Sensor
- Zoom Camera: 24mm-48mm Optical Zoom Camera with a 1/2.3-inch 12 MP sensor
- Signal range: 4.9 mi (8 km)
- Min. Flight Height in ActiveTrack mode: 6 ft (2 m)
- Perfect for: Pros and enthusiasts looking for a powerful, portable drone with incredible quality and practical features.
As part of the Mavic 2's ActiveTrack mode, the following functions are incorporated:
- Trace: The aircraft tracks the subject at a constant distance. The joystick on the remote controller or the slider in DJI GO 4 are used to fly in a circle around the subject.
- Parallel (Profile): The aircraft tracks the subject at a constant angle and distance from the side. The joystick on the remote controller is used to fly in a circle around the subject.
- Spotlight: The aircraft will not track the subject automatically, but keeps the camera pointing at the subject. The remote controller is used to maneuver the aircraft, but orientation control is disabled. The left joystick and gimbal dial is used to adjust the framing of the subject.
The Mavic 2 is DJI's first consumer drone to offer Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing. That means you can enjoy worry-free flying in complex environments as the aircraft has sensors on all six sides. With a fully upgraded FlightAutonomy system, data is continually being transmitted and processed to ensure flying in tricky environments is safer than before.
The Mavic 2 also features DJI's signature Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS), which allows users to fly forward and backward with ease, avoiding obstacles in front of and behind a subject. APAS will plan an appropriate flight path to bypass these obstacles automatically in flight or ActiveTrack.
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