Drones are quickly becoming more than a flying selfie cameras. Amid growing geopolitical tensions, drone makers are seeing increased demand and acceptance as drones move farther from consumers’ hands.
Skydio today announced a $230 million series E fundraising round and the construction of a new manufacturing facility in America. The company says it’s seen a 30x growth over the last three years and is now the largest drone manufacturer in the United States. The Series E round was led by Linse Capital, with participation from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Next47, IVP, DoCoMo, NVIDIA, the Walton Family Foundation, and UP.Partners. Hercules Capital, and Axon, the company behind the Taser and police body cameras, also invested in Skydio.
Skydio says its drones are used in every branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, by over half of all U.S. State Departments of Transportation, and by over 200 public safety agencies in 47 states. But, of course, it helps that government agencies cannot purchase or use drones from the market leader DJI because of security concerns.
In a released statement, Skydio co-founder and CEO Adam Bry says the company sees “extraordinary demand globally from organizations addressing needs important to every citizen.” This includes, in his view, core industries such as transportation, public safety, energy, construction, communications, defense, and more.
Skydio sets itself apart from the competition on its autonomous capabilities. The company had viral success with its original drone that featured a market-leading collision avoidance detection. The company still offers such capabilities but has pushed the industry forward with additional features and capabilities. Last December, Skydio announced a docking station and a new platform that allows drone operators to be flown without an on-site operator. Current regulations around visual piloting limit this product, but Skydio has a solution for that, too, and now works with companies to expand their drone programs.
The new Skydio manufacturing facility is based in Hayward, CA. The facility is 36,000 square feet, a 10x increase in capacity over current levels. In addition, the company expects to hire 150 manufacturing employees to staff the new facility.
The drone has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that can shoot 12 mpx photos and can shoot video at 2.8K. Not gonna lie; that’s a curious choice for resolution for video and a rather odd sensor size. The 1/2.3-inch is used in compact mirrorless cameras, but most serious photographers tend to opt for larger sensors for heat dissipation and better depth of field options. DJI promises it all makes sense once your palm-sized flying camera is buzzing about capturing footage.
DJI’s Mini 2SE is a capable little flying camera – at least on paper. Image Credit: DJI
The camera is mounted on an advanced gimbal with a 3-axis mechanical stabilization system that promises smooth images even in blustery winds.
The drone is small. Fantastically small. And it weighs only 249 grams (8.8 ounces), and DJI claims it is exempt from drone regulations in ‘many parts of the world.’
Aimed mostly at the novice market, DJI’s newest offers one-tap takeoff and landing, stable hovering and a ‘return to home’ feature to make flying easier. The drone supports HD video transmission up to 10 km (6.2 miles), and a max flight time of just over half an hour.
DJIs Fly More combo includes extra batteries, charging cables, and spare rotor wings in case you aren’t quite as good (or lucky) a pilot as you wished you were. Image Credit: DJI.
The drone itself is priced competitively, at $369, and there’s a “fly more combo” available for $519 that includes extra batteries, spare rotors, and a few other goodies. The new quadcopter will be available starting March 22.
Affordability is fairly malleable concept when it comes to consumer drones. We’ve seen plenty of systems positioned as affordable – or even cheap – over the years, but lowering the price point generally comes with its share of tradeoffs. It’s something DJI itself has flirted with a bit itself, with some more basic and entry-level systems.
But the Mavic has long been a kind of gold standard, in terms of accessibility and build quality. Certainly its always been more affordable than many non-consumer systems, but you’d have to go out on long limb to position it as “cheap.” In this era of component shortages, inflation and just general economic headwinds, DJI’s positioning the Mavic 3 Classic as its most accessible drone to date.
The system, which was announced at an event this morning, runs $1,469. That’s for the drone only. As ever, the company’s got all sorts of additional packages with added batteries, carrying cases and other accessories you can opt into (or not) and quickly drive that price up. The system is built around the 4/3 CMOS 20-megapixel Hasselblad camera as the standard Mavic 3, along with that base system’s stated 46 minutes max flight time.
Image Credits: DJI
The Classic is part of a growing trend in consumer electronics that finds companies cutting some features for a lower cost iteration of a flagship device. The company effectively brings the product price down by around $400, dropping the telephoto lens, but otherwise not sacrificing a ton to hopefully attract some new customers who were edged out by the price point by just a bit.
It’s not an altogether trivial cut, of course. Imaging has long been the core of the line. But if a single (very good) camera is enough for your needs, the Classic ought to cushion the landing a bit. The drone is available starting today.
DJI is best known for its quadcopter drones, but over the past few years, the company has been picking a few interesting fights with established players in adjacent markets. Today, DJI is releasing the third iteration of its Osmo series of action cameras, the Osmo 3. The new camera ramps up the battery capacity significantly, and makes the camera more creator-friendly than ever.
A lot of content is consumed vertically these day — think TikTok and the Stories features on various platforms, and one of the (in retrospect obvious) updates to the camera is that Osmo 3 is designed to be used both in landscape and portrait orientation. The designers built the camera around a 1770mAh battery, which lets the camera record for two and a half hours. They’ve also added rapid-charge functionality that’ll charge from dead to 80% in just 18 minutes. In less than an hour, it’ll be fully charged.
“Ever since we released the original Osmo Action in 2019, we have been continuously inspired by the stunning footage captured with it,” said Paul Pan, senior product line manager at DJI. “As our users keep pushing further, moving faster and diving deeper, our mission is to provide a device built to keep up with them. Every new feature made Osmo Action 3 the most reliable, tough and easy-to-use action camera. We can’t wait to see what our users create when they push their limits with Osmo Action 3.”
The camera shoots in 4K at 120 fps, and has a super-wide field of view, with advanced image stabilization. The camera also manages its temperature better than before; the company claims the camera doesn’t need a little break to cool down. If you have battery, you can record.
DJI Osmo Action 3 has a ‘delete selfie stick’ feature, that makes the pole invisible as you’re cruising down the mountain. Image Credits:DJI
The camera loves extreme conditions, both in terms of temperature and waterproofing. Surfing, skiing and some snorkeling is all done with great panache: You can take it down to 16 meters depth without additional waterproof housing, and the camera can keep functioning at temperatures down to -20ºC (-6ºF). It’s also drop-resistant to about 1.5 meters (five feet).
Osmo Action 3 is available today, and comes in two packages: The Osmo Action 3 Standard Combo retails for $329 and includes Osmo Action 3, one Osmo Action 3 Extreme Battery, the Osmo Action 3 Horizontal-Vertical Protective Frame, the Osmo Action 3 Quick-Release Adapter Mount and the Osmo Flat Adhesive Base. The Osmo Action 3 Adventure Combo retails for $439 and includes the same package, but with three batteries, two quick-release mounts and a battery case. A slew of accessories are available, including strap mounts, handlebar mounts, helmet and suction cup mounts, lens covers, etc. You can learn more about the camera on the DJI website.
A case concerning Apple’s driving trade secrets which started in 2018 has come to a close. Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple employee, pleaded guilty on Monday to stealing confidential information from Apple.
In July 2018, a federal grand jury in San Jose indicted Zhang for obtaining a 25-page document containing detailed drawings of a circuit board designed to be used in Apple’s autonomous vehicle.
In April that year, Zhang told Apple that he was resigning to be closer to his ill mother in China. Apple later learned that the former employee had gone on to work for Xpeng, an electric vehicle upstart in China. On the day of Zhang’s planned return to China, federal agents intercepted and arrested the engineer at the San Jose International Airport.
Xpeng has distanced itself from the case. In its official Weibo post on Tuesday, the publicly traded EV maker said it has nothing to do with Zhang’s case, has no knowledge of any case detail, has not been involved in the investigation by the U.S. judiciary authorities, and has no related dispute with Apple.
“Xpeng is a leading player in advanced driver assistance systems in China and will continue to develop full-stack solutions,” the carmaker said.
Another former Xpeng staff has also been ensnarled in legal disputes with an American tech giant. In 2019, Tesla alleged that its ex-employee Cao Guangzhi had stolen Autopilot’s proprietary technology before taking a job at Xpeng, and Elon Musk himself has publicly made innuendos about his Chinese challenger. The lawsuit was dropped in 2021.
There are reasons Xpeng’s Western rivals would be nervous about where it’s going. Like its foreign competitors, Xpeng has cultivated autonomous driving ambitions. The Guangzhou-based company has been busy testing its Xpilot ADAS system, a counterpart to Tesla’s FSD, and wants to mass-produce the solution at affordable costs.
Different from Tesla, Xpeng has opted for lidars, some of which are supplied by DJI-affiliated Livox, to steer its vehicles. The latest version of Xpilot claims to be able to navigate complex urban roads and auto-park in what the company labels as Level 2.5 driving.
Some of that technology could soon be available to overseas consumers. Last year, Xpeng quietly began shipping in Norway, also the first stop in its Chinese rival Nio’s overseas expansion. In February, the company announced plans to enter Sweden and the Netherlands through both official retail stores and third-party distribution networks.
I know I keep teasing how excited I am about July’s big robotics event, but it’s precisely because of panels like the one we announced earlier this week. We’ve got Rodney Brooks and Clara Vu teaming up for a 2-on-1 fireside to discussing the changing face of human-robot interaction.
It’s a big, broad and important topic, as robotics take an increasingly larger role in our lives. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better duo to discuss the topic with (that’s the nice thing about running programming for an event).
Image Credits: TechCrunch
Brooks is the co-founder and CTO of deep learning robotics software firm Robust.AI. He also co-founded iRobot and cobot firm Rethink Robotics, and served as the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) for a decade. Vu is the co-founder and CTO of collaborative robotic safety firm Veo and a co-founder of Harvest Automation.
Both Brooks and Vu have appeared onstage at TC Sessions: Robotics in previous years, and I’m psyched to have them in conversation this time out. All right, that’s enough plugging from me this week.
Image Credits: Qualcomm
Kicking things off with Qualcomm this week. Unsurprisingly, the company is making a new push into the robotics world this week, in hopes of leveraging its 5G technologies for autonomous robotic systems. The Qualcomm Robotics RB6 Platform is a development kit announced this week at the company’s 5G summit, and the Southern Californian chip maker is casting the net quite wide here, with a focus on drones, delivery robots, collaborative systems and more.
Says Qualcomm’s Dev Singh:
Building on the successful growth and traction of Qualcomm Technologies’ leading robotics solutions, our expanded roadmap of solutions will help bring enhanced AI and 5G technologies to support smarter, safer, and more advanced innovations across robotics, drones and intelligent machines. We are fueling robotics innovations with 5G connectivity and premium edge-AI that will transform how we think and approach challenges and ever-evolving industry expectations in the digital economy.
RB6, which is built on top of the Qualcomm Robotics Platform, arrives along with the RB5 AMR Reference Design to help kickstart robotics hardware development that utilizes the firm’s components. Given the recent explosive growth of automation, it’s clear why companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia and Intel are all making pushes to get in on the ground floor of development.
Some fun research out of Hangzhou, China’s Zheijang University this week. The school is showcasing drone swarming in a difficult to navigate forest setting. The 10 drones are controlled by a central computer, flying in formation and following human subjects, all while avoiding crashing into trees.
Image Credits: DJI
Speaking of crashing into trees, we’ve done our fair share at TechCrunch while testing DJI drones. The company’s got a new version of the Mini 3 Pro, which weighs in at 249 grams. That’s precisely one gram from the FAA cutoff that requires drone users to register their systems. It has been fascinating watching the company iterate on the folding Mavic line over the last several years.
These things are getting impressively powerful at their size, and much as smartphone innovations have created components that have launched several other fields, it seems likely that the work being done in the consumer drone space is going to have a profound impact in the broader automation field, going forward. Oh, and the new version of the Mini has even more safety features, theoretically making it more difficult to accidentally slam into trees.
Image Credits: Hyundai
This one completely flew under our radar a few weeks back. Hyundai is recommitting to some of those wild Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) concepts by launching the New Horizons Studio (NHS). The Bozeman, Montana-based studio will be focused on iterating some of those ideas courtesy of a $20 million investment over the next five years.
As to why the company chose Montana, New Horizon head John Suh says, “Montana is quickly becoming a hub for high-tech companies and entrepreneurs with a growing talent pool of skilled labor in the field of engineering, research and natural science. Bozeman is a thriving and economic micropolitan city. Nestled near dozens of off-road trails with more than 150 miles of terrain and mountain access for UMV testing — it’s the perfect fit for our new R&D Lab.”
As for the concepts the team is working on, Hyundai notes, “The first is an uncrewed transforming intelligent ground excursion robot (similar to what was revealed at CES in 2021) designed to carry various types of payloads while traveling over treacherous terrain. The second, inspired by Elevate, is a larger (size of a two-person ATV) vehicle with robotic legs that can address challenging driving situations and potentially save lives as the first responder in natural disasters.”
Image Credits: Eureka Robotics
This week was a little light on actual funding news, but we’ve got one addition, just under the wire: Eureka Robotics. The Singapore-based firm caused a minor online sensation back in 2018 with its Ikea furniture building robot. Turns out its technology was successful enough to earn it a $4.25 “Pre-Series A” for robots that can drill, inspect, assemble and perform other complex tasks.
The round, which was led by The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners, will be used to deploy and accelerate development on the company’s flagship Eureka Controller. The company co-founder, Dr. Pham Quang Cuong, tells Catherine, “while the core technologies are mature and have already been deployed in production, we want to make those technologies really easy to use by System Integrators. Making advanced technologies easy to use by non-programmer engineers is actually difficult.”
Image Credits: ABB Robotics
Closing us out this week for good measure is an ABB demo featuring a car-painting robot. Haje notes:
For this PR stunt, the company collaborated with eight-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital design collective Illusorr, to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. The project is showing off the company’s PixelPaint technology, which is basically an inkjet printer with 1,000 nozzles mounted on an industrial robot.
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch
Fire up that robotic arm and subscribe to Actuator.
DJI has just introduced a new drone — its most capable ever to squeak under the 250 gram limit that keeps operators free from a whole host of headaches and restrictions for flight (note that local laws and rules still do apply — being small doesn’t mean you can do anything you want). The DJI Mini 3 Pro drone is the first in the series to add that ‘Pro’ moniker, and it does a lot to earn it, making this the best overall value yet in the consumer/enthusiast drone space for people who want portability, affordability and image/video quality.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is still small enough to earn its name, but it is a bit larger than prior iterations. While the drone’s weight comes in at 249 grams with the included standard battery pack, the wingspan in particular is a lot larger than the original Mini in particular, when the arms are extended for flight. This provides additional flight control capabilities, and it only barely changes the drone’s profile when it’s folded for carry, so it’s definitely a welcome design trade-off.
DJI has not only refined the aerial engineering here, they’ve also packed an impressive gimballed 1/1.3 inch sensor camera in the Mini 3 Pro, which can capture images at up to 48MP in RAW format, and record video in 4K at up to 60 fps, with a slow-mo mode that captures 120fps footage at full HD (1080p) resolution.
The new DJI Mini 3 Pro drone in flight
The ‘Pro’ also comes into play with the formats that the Mini 3 Pro offers: You can record video in D-Cinelike mode, which offers a wealth of color information for tuning the color mix of you video to your liking afterwards in programs like DaVinci Resolve. This can give you a cinematic look that is frankly astounding when you consider it’s coming for a drone that slips pretty easily into a jacket pocket.
Another ‘Pro’ feature that DJI has introduced to this size category for the first time: obstacle detection and avoidance. The Mini 3 Pro gets the company’s Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems 4.0, meaning you’re far less likely to have to scale a tree to retrieve it because it got caught up in some branches.
Other features include the ability to pivot the camera via the gimbal to shoot vertical video, making this the ideal TikTok drone, subject tracking, 4x digital zoom (which unlocks some creative video shooting capabilities), panorama shooting and 34 minutes of run time on the standard battery (plus 47 minutes possible on the extended juice of the optional Flight Battery Plus — which also tips you over that 250 gram limit, I should note).
At first glance, the Mini 3 Pro doesn’t deviate much from DJI’s tried-and-tested approach to drone design; it’s a four-rotor aircraft, mostly made up of that central body, with extendable arms and integrated stubby landing gear. There are some big obvious changes vs. prior Minis, however, including at the front of the drone, where the usual bulbous overhang that covers the camera makes way for a scooped out, ‘hammerhead’-like look with the orientation cameras flanking the gimballed 24mm-equivalent, f/1.7 camera below.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro (right) and the DJI Mavic Mini (left) folded
This probably helps eke out weight savings to allow the Mini 3 Pro to boast its impressive specs while still staying on the fair side of those aviation rule restriction. It also means the drone ships with a larger, more bulbous protective hood attachment to keep the gimbal and camera safe and stable in transit. This was my one knock on the drone’s design — the gimbal is loose when the drone is powered down, which is understandable to protect the motors, but it means you have to fight it to a certain extent to get it to line up correctly with the protective hood before it clips in.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro (right) and the DJI Mavic Mini (left) with arms extended
DJI has obviously learned a lot from years of trying to make the most of the sub-250 gram drone category, however, and it really shows in the Mini 3 Pro. The rotors don’t have the easy removal clips that come on larger models, but once again this is a worthwhile trade-off. For a few minor inconveniences, what you get is a drone that doesn’t require a major packing logistics operation to take along with you — and one that captures images and videos of a quality that won’t leave anyone but the most demanding pro users feeling like they should’ve brought along a beefier machine.
A note here on the controller options — the Mini 3 Pro comes with the RC-N1 controller by default (though there’s a controller-less option as well to save a few bucks if you already have one), which is a great controller in its own right, but which requires you to supply the viewfinder in the form of your connected smartphone. The DJI RC package comes with that brand new controller as well, and if you’re on the fence, you should absolutely go for that one: The DJI RC has a built-in display, and essentially runs an integrated Android phone to operate the DJI Fly app. It’s a very compact and well-designed device, with excellent display quality and so many fewer headaches when it comes to fiddling with hardware smartphone connectors. More about the DJI RC in the next section.
I’ve already alluded to the quality of the DJI Mini 3 Pro’s image and video capture a few times, but in case it wasn’t clear: This thing more than delivers.
The 48 megapixel images offer new levels of detail and printing options, and the RAW capture means you can really get a lot more out of your still captures when editing after the fact in programs like Lightroom. Images are also much less noisy than they have been from prior iterations of the Mini, owing to the larger sensor and the larger pixel size on the sensor itself. Low-light capture has never been a particular strength of these drones, but DJI has done a good job of prioritizing improvements in that area on the Mini 3 Pro, and it shows.
DJI Mini 3 Pro JPEG from the camera, auto-settings
Auto mode delivers images that really impress, and for most users there’s probably not much reason to delve into manual mode. But for advanced enthusiasts and pros, the manual modes offers the ability to tweak to your heart’s content, which can result in some truly unique captures that stand out from the crowd. Custom image modes including the panorama feature are excellent for unique applications like large-scale prints, and the Mini 3 Pro software makes actually getting good ones a relative breeze.
Speaking of breeze, when it comes to flight control, the Mini 3 Pro seemed to have no problem handling wind with aplomb. One thing I noticed quite a bit on my own OG DJI Mavic Mini was that it was frequently complaining about wind speeds and stability as a result; the Mini 3 Pro, even at altitudes above 400 ft, never gave any indication it was struggling with that particular issue. The days I flew were relatively calm at ground level, so your mileage may vary, but it’s definitely improved vs. previous generation hardware.
DJI Mini 3 Pro sample image, auto-settings
As much as the DJI Mini 3 Pro is optimized for stills capture, the new video options are a major upgrade vs. what this category could previously do. 4K/60, HDR, full HD 120fps slow-mo, vertical video and the D-Cinelike color profile all add up to a drone that can do it all, whether you’re an amateur filmmaker trying to make the next art-house classic, a YouTuber who puts a premium on production value, or a TikTok creator who wants to add another dimension to their content. Subject tracking works reliably well, and combined with vertical video and modes like the ‘dronie’ aerial selfie capture option, you can dive into a lot of creative options for novel posts on any platform.
As for actually flying the drone, it’s a bit hard to evaluate from the perspective of a newcomer since I’ve now been flying DJI aircraft since the original Mavic. But it definitely feels intuitive and simple, with the added bonus that the obstacle avoidance protections do kick in when large objects get in your way, potentially saving you from an expensive accident.
You can tweak settings like how fast the camera tracks in order to refine the end product and compensate for inexpert or jerky joystick movements, but out of the box the DJI Mini 3 Pro seems tuned to produce good end results for a wide range of users.
As mentioned, the DJI RC controller option also really ups the game in terms of the actual experience of flying the drone. My main headache with DJI drones in the past has been the less-than-elegant experience of connecting a smartphone to the controller, getting everything working properly and settled into the grip optimally. The DJI RC changes that into a truly seamless “it just works” experience, and you can connect the controller to any wifi network (including tethering to your phone in the field) to keep both it and the aircraft up to date with firmware and flight restriction maps. Image quality and live video feed are high-res and excellent, viewable even in direct sunlight, and it’s absolutely not something you can give up once you experience it.
Along with a boost in performance, DJI’s latest Mini drone also got a fairly significant bump in price: The DJI Mini 3 Pro starts at $669, and that’s without a remote control. $759 will get you the Mini 3 Pro and the RC-N1 (which requires you to bring your own phone). The best option is of course the most expensive one, but I do think it’s the one most people should consider — that’s the DJI Mini 3 Pro plus the DJI RC for $909. As reviewed, my unit also included the DJI Mini 3 Pro Fly More Kit, which provides two more 34-min batteries, a hub to charge all three batteries at once, extra propellers, and a handy shoulder bag that perfectly fits the drone, controller and everything I just mentioned, which is an added $189.
DJI Mini 3 Pro sample image. JPEG with auto settings
All told, the DJI Mini 3 Pro kit I reviewed costs a total of around $1,100 — nearly double the price of the DJI Mini 2 Fly More combo which still retails for $599. But for what you get, particularly with the improvements to image and video quality, as well as the inclusion of the obstacle avoidance system, that’s well worth the price delta. Ultimately, the Mini 3 Pro is probably better compared to something like the DJI Air 2S, which costs $1,299 for the Fly More combo. With that option, you do get a larger sensor and better, 5.2K video recording, but most users likely won’t appreciate the differences there, and the Mini 3 Pro still manages to sneak under that critical 250g limit, which the Air 2S does not.
DJI’s pace of innovation means it can be tough to decide when to jump on as a consumer (I myself have three of my own prior generation drones, including the original Mini). But what it’s put together in the Mini 3 Pro seems like a package that has so few compromises it should satisfy even the most discerning enthusiast for years to come.
Born as the Mavic Mini, back in late-2019, the Mini hits a nice sweet spot for casual drone flyers. It’s far more capable that the Spark — which, while fun, never nailed the landing. Instead of being a super-casual selfie drone — of the variety Snap is currently attempting with Pixy — it’s more of a gateway into the world of drone imaging.
DJI dropped “Mavic” from the name with 2020’s Mini 2, which brought longer flight times and 4K on-board, while maintaining the line’s iconic folding design. After the standard spate of leaks, the company today announced the Mini 3 Pro, which adds 4K/60fps video shooting to the equation, along with improved obstacle sensing and a better flight time of around 34 minutes.
Image Credits: DJI
As DJI notes, many governing bodies have set the cutoff for the “safest” drone category at 250 grams (~0.55 pounds). That includes the FAA, which requires recreational flyers to register all drones above that weight. The organization notes, “All drones must be registered, except those that weigh 0.55 pounds or less (less than 250 grams) and are flown exclusively under the Exception for Recreational Flyers.”
The company has, no doubt, taken great pains to sneak the Mini 3 Pro just under the wire at 249 grams. That puts it in line with the Mini 2’s weight, while extending some of those “pro” features. We’ll be sharing a review of the system soon, but DJI has cornered the consumer market in a seemingly insurmountable way, building on years of advancements and some innovative designs. The company’s made some missteps along the way, but the Mavic line has long been the one to beat.
Image Credits: DJI
It has once again crammed a lot of drone into a small and lightweight footprint here. Imaging is, as ever, the central thesis here. On the hardware side, that includes a 1/1.3-inch CMOS camera sensor that can capture 48-megapixel images. While the 60fps rate exists for 4K video, HDR can be capatured at up to 30fps. It also features up to 4x digital zoom, though that will drop the resolution from 4K to HD.
That’s coupled with the standard Mavic software suite, including the latest version of ActiveTrack, which features two subject tracking options. QuickShot options, meanwhile, include Dronie, Helix, Rock, Circle, Boomerang and Asteroid. The system can also create hyperlapse-style timelapse shots.
Image Credits: DJI
In addition to the 34-minute battery, the company is adding an Intelligent Flight Battery Plus to the mix, which allows for flights of up to 47 minutes. DJI is also introducing a new remote control, the DJI RC, which features a 5.5-inch touchscreen, allowing users to fly it without hooking up a smartphone.
The Mini 3 Pro runs $669 without the remote and $909 with. There are also two bundles, which include things like the new Intelligent Flight batteries, charging hubs, replacement propellers and the like.
The Russia-Ukraine war is far from the first time DJI has has come under fire for policy decisions. But the Shenzhen-based drone giant is trying its best to stay away from any implication that it might be taking sides in the on-going conflict. Following calls to halt sales in Russian, the firm issued a statement titled “DJI Reassesses Sales Compliance Efforts In Light Of Current Hostilities,” which announces a suspension of business in both countries, “pending […] review.”
The full statement is as follows,
DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine. We are engaging with customers, partners and other stakeholders regarding the temporary suspension of business operations in the affected territories.
The company, which became a favorite target of the Trump administration, has been working to avoid accusations that it’s been favoring any one side in the conflict. Ukraine officials have, however, previously implied that the company might have intentionally sabotaged its products. For its part, DJI has insisted that its products are not sold for military purposes.
Earlier this month, the company issued a statement reiterating the message, noting in part, “Our distributors, resellers, and other business partners have committed to following it when they sell and use our products. They agree not to sell DJI products to customers who clearly plan to use them for military purposes, or help modify our products for military use, and they understand we will terminate our business relationship with them if they cannot adhere to this commitment.”
In March, the company responded to a statement from Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, on Twitter, noting that it would set up geofencing upon request. The company was also quick to point out that a determined drone pilot could easily circumvent such restrictions. “Please be aware that geofencing is not foolproof,” the company wrote, “and if the user does not connect to the internet to update the geofence data, the new geofence will not take effect for the drone.”
Such a statement does highlight some bigger issues with current drone safety systems, military use or no.
I got really excited about the DJI Mic announcement a couple of weeks ago, and concluded that, at least on paper, it’s the perfect companion for vloggers and on-the-go media creators. As is often the case, once we look beyond the hype things are a tiny bit more complicated than that. Overall, it may very well be a good and elegant solution for the right audience, but it isn’t as much of a slam dunk as you’d think.
The charger case is extraordinarily well built. The lid closes with a satisfying clunk, and the two transmitters, the receiver and the USB-C and Lighting adapters for the receiver are all securely ensconced in the charger case. Battery life is extraordinary, and the range of the microphones never gave me any issues in testing, so all of that was reassuring.
I did note the size when I first took the DJI Mic out of its packaging. On closer reflection, it makes sense that two microphones, a receiver and a bunch of clips and adapters are bigger and heavier than a set of headphones, and the whole kit does fit comfortably in a pocket, but when you slip it into your jeans, there’s no risk of not realizing they are there. The kit weighs in at a hefty 260 grams (9.2 oz). While DJI describes its size as a packet of cigarettes — those are some heavy-ass, weird-shaped cigarettes.
I can’t complain about the form factor of the device too much; if it did what it promised, it would be worthy of a permanent place in my video bag any day. This is where the situation gets a little sticky.
The main issue is with the lavalier clip-on microphones themselves. They look fantastic, and they are ridiculously easy to set up and use, but ultimately the only thing that truly matters is how good the sound quality is, and that’s where things get a little more complicated.
When you talk directly into the microphone at point-blank distance, the audio is great, so if you use the mics as small hand-held microphones, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not really how they are designed — you’re meant to clip them on to a shirt, either with the built-in clip or with the included magnets. The clips are sturdy and the magnets work great, but I was never quite able to position them in such a way that they picked up my voice well. It’s as if I’m always talking past the mics rather than into them.
The microphone transmitters are small, yes, but they are not quite small enough for you to comfortably place them exactly where they are needed. Each microphone transmitter does have a 3.5mm socket where you can plug in a proper, light-weight lavalier microphone which is easier to position, but at that point, I’m left scratching my head whether the setup still makes sense: the all-you-need-in-a-box nature of the DJI Mic is part of its charm, and having to add additional external microphones feels a little bit like the DJI product team had an extraordinary idea, but were unable to fully execute on its vision.
I’m struggling to really figure out how to review the DJI Mic, if I’m being really honest. At $329, there are no real competitors worth speaking of. If you like to film from a distance beyond a few feet, these little microphones are going to be better than the on-camera microphone by quite some considerable margin. The incredible ease of use and nigh-on foolproof operation means that you don’t really need to look at the operation manual either: Plug the receiver in, hand your interviewee a microphone and you’re good to go.
The question is whether it’s high-end enough. Yes, it’s better than nothing, and a set of Sennheiser wireless lavs with the receiver will set you back twice, if not three times what you pay for the DJI Mic.
Here, you can see the two microphones and the receiver — the microphones are larger than you’d think, the receiver was surprisingly small. In the case, you can see the Lightning and USB-C adapters for connecting the receiver to your phone. The receiver also has a line out, so you can connect it to pretty much any recorder or camera on the market today. Image Credit:Haje Kamps for TechCrunch (opens in a new window)
What it really boils down to is how professional your aspirations are. If you want top-shelf audio to go with your video recordings, you can buy a pair of wired lavalier mics and a really long extension cable for $50 or less. Then you can position them exactly where you need them, and you don’t have to worry about running out of range or batteries. Less convenient, for sure, but higher quality. If you love the convenience of wireless and want higher quality, there are better options available out there.
Let’s compare and contrast
If you want to dive into the deep geek, I compared a few different microphones in exactly the same sound landscape (my office with the door to the outside open to get some road noise in there). First up is the DJI Mic clipped to my shirt. As you can hear, it’s a little bit tinny, picks up a fair amount of road noise and I don’t love the overall sound. The second clip is the same microphone, but I’m holding it about three inches from my mouth, and I’m speaking straight into it. The quality is markedly better — and if I’m being honest, this was what I was hoping for when I started reviewing the DJI Mic microphones. The third clip is what it sounds like when I speak straight into my Google Pixel 6 Pro’s built-in microphones. It sounds god-awful; the audio is clipped, it picks up a ton of background noise, and I think it sounds really tinny and unpleasant.
The fourth clip is shot with the Røde VideoMic Me — it’s my go-to microphone when I’m interviewing and doing audio notes in crowded places. Not perfect, but makes it really easy to understand the interviewee. I’d say the quality is comparable with the DJI Mic when I speak straight into the microphone, but the VideoMic is even less hassle, and costs $70 or so. Obviously, the VideoMic has more of a directional boom mic feel, so it’s a very different piece of kit than the lavalier-style microphone of the DJI Mic. The last sample is an Audio-Technica AT2005 USB microphone plugged into my computer. This microphone costs around $60, but is by far the best-sounding mic of the lot. It’s a very different type of microphone again, of course — a cardioid dynamic microphone — which can’t be used as a small, subtle, hidden microphone the way the DJI Mic can — but if you’re optimizing for quality and you can deal with your interviewee hand-holding a microphone, it might be the best way to get high-quality sound.
Ultimately, I struggle to figure out who the DJI Mic is truly for; it’s good but not great. It’s affordable but not cheap. It wants to weasel its way into your heart and your camera bag, but I’m resisting its charms. It’s as if it’s trying to be the super-convenient jack-of-all-trades, but in the process, I’m finding it is the master of none, and for every recording situation where the DJI Mic is a good option, there are either better, less convenient, cheaper options or far better, more expensive options available.
If you need convenience and speed and ease of setup above all, you can make the argument for this setup. If you’re spending someone else’s money, you can argue that you saved $700 on not buying a set of Sennheiser wireless lavs. If you’re traveling as light as possible and that’s more important than audio quality, the DJI Mic might just hit the sweet spot. For every other use case, it’s a pretty confusing product; I’d be surprised if it finds a huge mainstream following.
Having said all of that — DJI also launched an action cam that was essentially a spin-off of its drone tech, and it turned out to be fantastically successful and found a cult following. The company has deep pockets and this is its first volley; I wouldn’t be surprised if version 2 irons out the teething problems and it may very well find itself with a winner on its hands.