China is already home to the world’s largest drone manufacturer in DJI, so in a way it seems only natural for one of the country’s biggest electronics players to come in for a slice of the pie.
Two versions will be available, both carrying spherical video cameras attached to a 3-axis gimbal shooting in either 4K at 30 fps or 1080p at 60 fps, while images are captured in both JPEG and RAW with a Sony 12-megapixel CMOS sensor.
Mi has a flight time of 27 minutes and its other autonomous capabilities include the ability to circle a point of interest, fly on its own to a pre-determined destination and follow user-set flight routes.
For the specs listed and the handy automated flight modes, the price tag of 2,999 yuan (US$460) seems awfully reasonable. The 1080p version is cheaper still at 2,499 yuan (US$380). DJI’s Phantom 4 is priced at US$1,400, while its 4K shooting predecessor the Phantom 3 is priced at $800. The 3DR Solo drone with 4K shooting capabilities will cost in excess of $1,000, while Yuneec’s Typhoon H costs $1,799.
Whether the drones perform as expected, and the camera quality is as solid as hoped, well, we will have to wait and see. The Mi drone will enter beta testing in July and will become available some time after that.
One of the key advantages that Xiaomi seems to be touting with the Mi Drone is the modularity and serviceability of the whole thing — the camera module is detachable, as are all the rotors. This new drone has a 5,100mAh battery, which is also easily replaceable, and Xiaomi claims the unit can get 27 minutes of flight time on a single charge, which is at the high end of what most consumer quadcopters offer.
The Mi Drone uses both GPS and GLONASS for positioning, and has a visual positioning system on the bottom that allows it to remain stable while flying at low altitudes in environments where it cannot get a satellite signal. The Mi Drone also has the ability to create a geofence to limit its movement.
Xiaomi notes that the 1080p Mi Drone “will be crowdfunded on the Mi Home app starting 26 May 2016” while the 4K option “will be available for testing via an open beta programme at the end of July.”
The race to the bottom continues. You have to wonder whether this isn’t about as low as it is possible to go for a fully loaded 4K rig. They certainly didn’t skimp on ideas. Whatever the case Xiaomi grabbed themselves a nice chunk of the news cycle for the week. Now all they have to do is deliver before someone else undercuts them.
UPDATE One of the great joys of the tech business is the “live demo.” The potential for disaster is always present. Turns out that Xiaomi managed to crash one of their new drones at the press event, immediately earning the new bird the sobriquet “the flying bomb.” Not great PR.
Someone came up with the story that “it was an auto landing because the battery wasn’t fully charged.” In which case the responsible team should be jobless – c’mon you didn’t charge the battery?
Chinese social media reportedly took a different view. “quality fails”, “a lack of safety” and, “cheap goods no good” “If it was an auto landing, then it landed so fast that I’d want a helmet ready in case it’s right above me.”
The article finishes by suggesting that GoPro ought to do their best to avoid this type of mishap…