DHL Express, the world’s leading international express delivery service provider, and the world’s leading intelligent autonomous aerial vehicle company EHang have entered into a strategic partnership to jointly launch a fully automated and intelligent smart drone delivery solution to tackle the last-mile delivery challenges in the urban areas of China. The launch ceremony was held today at the EHang Command and Control Center in Guangzhou, with the attendance of senior executives from both companies. This cutting-edge solution takes its inaugural flight for a DHL customer, making DHL the first international express company to provide such a service in China. It marks a new milestone in both companies’ continuous efforts to bring innovative and intelligent solutions with greater automation to the market.
“We are delighted to be partnering with EHang to set a new innovation milestone with this new fully-automated and intelligent drone logistics solution, which combines the strength of the world’s largest international express company together with one of the leading UAV companies in the world,” said Wu Dongming, CEO, DHL Express China. “This is an exciting time for the logistics sector, with the continued growth of the Chinese economy and cross-border trade, particularly in South China and the Greater Bay Area, which is home to an increasing number of SMEs and startups. This means there is a tremendous volume of logistics needs, which in turn creates new opportunities for implementing innovative solutions that can continuously drive growth with greater efficiency, sustainability and less cost.”
The new customized route, which has been exclusively created for a DHL customer, covers a distance of approximately eight kilometres between the customer premises and the DHL service centre in Liaobu, Dongguan, Guangdong Province,. Using the most advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in EHang’s newly-launched Falcon series, featuring the highest level of intelligence, automation, safety and reliability, the new intelligent drone delivery solution overcomes the complex road conditions and traffic congestion common to urban areas. It Page 2 of 3 reduces one-way delivery time from 40 minutes to only eight minutes and can save costs of up to 80% per delivery, with reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint compared with road transportation.
Mr. Hu Huazhi, Founder & CEO of EHang, said, “Together with DHL we are very glad to bring the first smart drone delivery service route to China in Guangzhou; this marks a new beginning in building air logistics for smart cities. Riding on today’s launch, we expect smart drone delivery as an innovative logistics solution to be expanded and realized in more areas, and we look forward to working with DHL in building the eco-system for a multi-dimensional urban air transport system.”
The EHang Falcon smart drone, with eight propellers on four arms, is designed with multiple redundant systems for full backup, and smart and secure flight control modules. Its high performance features include vertical take-off and landing, high accuracy GPS and visual identification, smart flight path planning, fully-automated flight and real-time network connection and scheduling. As a fully-automated and intelligent solution, the drones, which can carry up to 5kg of cargo per flight, take off and land atop intelligent cabinets that were specifically developed for the fully autonomous loading and offloading of the shipment. The intelligent cabinets seamlessly connect with automated processes including sorting, scanning and storage of express mail, and will feature high-tech functions such as facial recognition and ID scanning.
This smart drone delivery solution will enhance DHL’s delivery capabilities and create a new customer experience in the logistics sector that opens up even more opportunities for sustainable growth and greater economic contribution. Given the growing prominence of B2C business operations and delivery in China, employing drones in express delivery services offers an innovative solution for meeting the increasing demands for time-sensitive delivery, particularly for last mile delivery in urban areas.
Building on the launch of its first fully automated, intelligent drone delivery solution in China, DHL will continue to identify new routes that can be developed for clients in need of tailored customer services and logistics solutions and will work closely with EHang to create a second generation of drones in the near future that will further improve capacity and range in drone operated express delivery.
One of the many things preventing urban drone deliveries reaching Amazone Prime levels of mass adoption is the threat of interference, whether that’s from pets, kids, thieves, gun-toting neighbors or rogue footballs.
Researchers at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, are working on sense and avoid technology that could provide drones with a more dynamic form of self-defense.
The next level of obstacle avoidance?
A team from the University of Zurich’s Robotics and Perception Group have developed a drone that uses a camera and an onboard Visual-Inertial Odometry system to see an incoming ball and dodge out of the way.
The system takes a different approach to the kind of sense and avoid technologies we have seen from DJI and Skydio – which are focused on avoiding collisions with static obstacles.
Read more: New Developer Platform Could Make Skydio R1 The Go-To Commercial Drone
In part that’s because the University of Zurich researchers’ drone used a sensor called an event camera. Rather than recording frames each second and passing them on for software to analyse, event cameras work by only sending data when the pixels shift or spike in intensity.
Read more: 3 Technologies That Could Transform Future Drone Operations
This reduces the processing bottlenecks that restrict a conventional sense and avoid system, cuts down the latency and results in much-improved response times.
These kinds of sensor are much more expensive than their standard camera counterparts, so it could be a long time before they are used to develop sophisitcated obstacle avoidance systems in consumer and professional drones.
The work is outlined in a research paper, entitled ‘How Fast is Too Fast? The Role of Perception Latency in High-Speed Sense and Avoid’. It was written by researchers Davide Falanga, Suseong Kim, and Davide Scaramuzza and can be read in full here.
Read more: Exclusive: Parrot Explain ANAFI’s Lack of Obstacle Avoidance
Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.
What better way to capture the beauty of spring’s budding cherry blossoms and flowering trees than through the air? After flying dozens of drones around the sky for countless hours, we think the best drone for most people is the DJI Mavic Air ($799). While it’s not DJI’s top-end model, the Air folds into a compact portable size, lets you film motion-stabilized video at 4K, and can be controlled using nothing more than hand gestures. If you’re looking for better We also like the DJI Mavic 2 if you want a drone capable of taking the best photos and videos from the air, but it’s nearly twice as expensive; the Mavic 2 Pro, which has a 1/2.3 Hasselblad sensor, costs $1,479, while the Mavic 2 Zoom, which has a 2x zoom lens, is $1,279.
Looking for a drone under $100? Here are our favorite budget drones, many of which are great for kids and those learning how to fly.
Latest News & Updates (April 2019)
- Tello has an Avengers-themed version of its programmable drone. The Tello Iron Man Edition ($129) has the red and gold stylings of Tony Stark’s suit, and novice flyers will get the assistance of F.R.I.D.A.Y., who provides feedback through Tello’s app during training missions. As with the standard Tello drone, the Iron Man Edition can be programmed using Scratch, Swift and Python, and has a camera that can take 5MP photos and 720p video.
- Don’t want to use your smartphone to control your DJI drone? DJI’s Smart Controller ($649) has a built-in 5.5-inch 1080p display and control sticks built into a single device, saving the hassle of connecting both a phone and a controller to the drone. the Smart Controller’s screen has a rated brightness of 1000 nits, a battery life of 2.5 hours, and will let you livestream video to supported social networks. However, the Smart Controller is compatible with only those DJI drone that use Occusync 2.0, which at the moment is only the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom.
DJI Mavic Air
Best Overall Drone
The DJI Mavic Air is one of the most compact drones around, yet takes excellent 4K video and fantastic photos. It’s a cinch to fly, can avoid objects, and can be controlled using nothing more than hand gestures. We especially liked some of its novel features, such as the ability to take 360-degree photos. Battery life is a little short at 20 minutes, but the Air’s battery can be swapped out in a cinch, and the whole package—including the controller—packs away into a neat little bag.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Best Camera Drone
If your aerial photography needs are a little more complex, another DJI drone can get the job done for you. The DJi Mavic 2 is available in two versions: the $1,449 Mavic 2 Pro offers a 1-inch Hasselblad sensor for capturing high-quality photos and video, while the $1,249 Mavic 2 Zoom features a 2X optical zoom lens. Either version is a good choice, though the Zoom proved a little more versatile in our tests. Whichever Mavic 2 you opt for, you can count on an easy-to-fly drone that now features 360-degree obstacle avoidance.
Parrot Mambo FPV
Best Drone for Kids
For $179, the Parrot Mambo delivers not just the drone, but a controller and a pair of first-person googles, too. Video is just 720p, but the camera is detachable, and can be swapped out for a grabber or a cannon that shoots out small green balls (not included). Insert your smartphone into the FPV goggles, and you can get a look at what the drone is seeing. It’s easy to fly, and is small enough to be used indoors or outdoors. Plus, you can teach your kids how to code by creating programs for the Mambo using Tynker and other programming languages.
Blade Nano QX RTF
Best Drone Under $100
So you’ve bought a cheap drone, learned how to fly, and want more. The Blade Nano QX is for you, offering a great selection of features for the flier who wants more without spending too much. The basic, no-frills Blade Nano QX RTF lacks a camera, but it’s fast and maneuverable. We liked its sturdy blade guards, which help keep it in one piece if it crashes into something.
Aerix Black Talon 2.0
Best Racing Drone for Beginners
The second version of the Aerix Black Talon features a much-improved camera. This makes for an even more immersive experience with the included FPV goggles, which drive home that in-the-action feeling as you zip around a track. Aspiring racers will love this drone’s speed and maneuverability, and that it’s super-easy to learn to fly. However, you’ll want to spring for the optional battery pack, as this drone’s endurance is a very short 4 minutes.
Propel Star Wars TIE Fighter
Best Star Wars Drone
The force has awakened with Propel’s new Star Wars drones, including the X-Wing, a TIE Interceptor, and an Imperial speeder bike (complete with Stormtrooper). All the drones are outfitted with IR blasters and receivers, so you can do battle with each other. The drones’ controllers play a number of sound effects and music from the Star Wars movies. Each drone is hand-painted and numbered, too. Only a limited number will be released in 2016.
MORE: 100 Best Places To Fly A Drone In America
How We Test Drones
When we take a new drone out for a spin, we evaluate it based on a number of factors:
- Design: How well is the drone built, and does it look good? If it comes with a controller, we take a look at its ergonomics.
- Durability/Repairability: Face it. You’re going to crash your drone at least once, but a good model should be able to survive a few mishaps without a problem. And, if something happens to break (it’s usually a rotor), how easy is it to repair?
- Flight Performance: How easy is the drone to fly? Is is stable when hovering, or does it require a lot of stick work? How does it respond to your commands?
- App: How intuitive is the app? What sort of features are available?
- Camera Quality: If the drone has a camera, then how good are the photos and videos it takes?
- Flight time: How long can the drone stay in the air before its battery runs out? This varies a lot based on the size of the drone, but the best drones have batteries that last up to 25-30 minutes.
- Price: Obviously, we don’t expect a $50 drone to perform as well as a $1,000 drone, so we take its cost into consideration when rendering a final verdict.
What to Look For When Buying a Drone
Drones aren’t just fun to fly. They can let you capture breathtaking footage, some in high-resolution 4K video. They’re also more affordable than ever, as quality beginner models now cost less than $60. Good camera drones start at a few hundred dollars. More complex drones, starting at less than $1,000, offer customizable and programmable features, turning them into truly autonomous devices that can make their own decisions. Plus, a new class of racing drones has started hitting the scene.
Drones aren’t that complicated, but there are a few key features you should consider when you are shopping. There are also some key rules you need to follow when you take to the air.
MORE: Drone Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know
FAA has rules you have to follow. The most important two: Never fly around or above people, and always keep your drone in sight. The FAA has a full list of safety guidelines for model aircraft that you should check before you take off. There are also restrictions on where you can fly: For example, within 5 miles of an airport is off limits. Mapbox provides a great interactive map of no-fly areas, and local RC (Remote Control) aircraft clubs may list fields that they use.
Non-commercial drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds have to be registered (there’s a $5 fee), and have to carry your license with you while flying the drone.
Most drones use a remote control with two joysticks — a bit like an Xbox or PlayStation controller. One stick controls what’s called the attitude of the quadcopter, including roll (tilting left and right) and pitch (tilting up and down). The other stick controls throttle and the rotation of the quadcopter. A good remote control should fit well in the hand, with sticks resting comfortably under your thumbs and providing a smooth, responsive feel that allows you to guide the quadcopter by touch.
Some models skip the remote control, or offer it as an extra-cost feature, and instead use a smartphone connected via Wi-Fi and a flying app. These apps often provide a live video view from the quadcopter camera. However, apps don’t allow the precision of real controllers: It is easier for your thumbs to slip, possibly causing a crash.
Construction and Repair
Despite what the ads tell you, drones crash all the time. A good drone will take an unplanned descent and ground interface (aka: a crash) in stride, without damaging the frame. It will also include shields to protect the rotors and electronics from harm.
Regardless, things still get broken sometimes, particularly racing drones. A good model will offer a ready supply of cheap parts like rotors and struts to replace the broken ones, and will make it easy to swap these parts out when required. The same is true of batteries.
Very few drones offer more than 10 to 20 minutes of battery life, so an easily swapped battery can give you more flying time without hassle. This tends to be a feature of more expensive models, with a spare battery typically costing more than $100. Cheap drones (under about $200) usually have built-in batteries that can’t be swapped out.
MORE: How to Extend the Flight Time of Your Drone
Want to show off your aerial exploits? A camera, either built-in or add-on, can capture those dramatic vistas for posterity. Most budget models use the equivalent of a cheap webcam, capturing low-resolution video (usually 640 x 480-pixel resolution) to an internal memory card for later viewing.
More sophisticated models offer high-definition video capture or the ability to connect an HD action camera such as a GoPro. Some drones also offer first-person view (FPV), sending a pilot’s-eye view from the drone itself to a phone or tablet. Some models offer video goggles for the ultimate pilot-seat flying experience.
Do you still have questions about drones? Or opinions about what does and doesn’t belong on this list? Join our drones forum to sound off.
You may have heard about a recent $20 million dollar Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) corridor New York is building. I thought you might be interested in our experiences so far in the construction of this capability, and our vision to build a venue for regional, national, and global UAS industry research and development.
The concept of a BVLOS corridor was put in motion after the awarding of FAA-designated Test Site status to Griffiss International Airport in Rome, NY, at the end of 2013. With the announcement, New York State recognized the opportunity it had in capitalizing on a new industry. Concept took a huge step towards reality with Governor Cuomo’s announcement at the NASA UAS Traffic Management (UTM) Conference held in Syracuse, NY in November 2016. Many millions of dollars would be committed to building a 50-mile corridor between the Test Site in Rome and Syracuse.
This project would complement the other New York State initiatives associated with the unmanned aircraft industry: GENIUS NY, a small business accelerator committing 5 million dollars per year for UAS start-ups; National Unmanned Aircraft System Standardized Testing and Rating (NUSTAR), a body set up to help establish and verify standards within the UAS industry, and Drone Zones, tax free or reduced areas set up for UAS businesses. The corridor, when completed, is expected to allow for total situational awareness (SA) within its 50 mile by 15 mile footprint, from 100’ into the flight levels, and cover towered Class C scheduled commercial service, towered Class D non-scheduled service, and non-towered GA airports.
Our discussions on the design of such a corridor centered on using technology to provide the best possible situational awareness (SA) on any flight activity taking place within it. Our thought was not to control those aircraft, but to provide better capabilities than our clients would have with visual observers in the field.
Many terms are currently used to describe line of sight (LOS) operations such as BVLOS, EVLOS (Extended Visual Line of Sight), BLOS (Beyond Line of Sight).
While you probably have read many press releases announcing BVLOS authority, very few of those approvals allow operations without at least one visual observer in the field.
This assistance can keep the UAS insight or monitor for manned aircraft in the operations area.
NUAIR is currently seeking a BVLOS approval without visual observers in the field to cover the whole corridor. Our approach is based on our crawl-walk-run philosophy at NUAIR. This means we would put each project that comes to us through our multiple safety protocols prior to allowing operations and slowly building up to a culmination of BVLOS, once the corridor is totally approved by the FAA. At the same time using our crawl-walk-run approach, we have conducted numerous successful EVLOS operations with UAS, ranging from 5 lbs to 3,500 lbs.
We have developed a specific approach to utilize the corridor using multiple sensors of varying capability to detect targets that are cooperative and non-cooperative, and range in size from a sUAS or general aviation airplane. The data we collect from the sensors is fused and displayed in real time on large screens in an Operations Center located at Griffiss. NUAIR Operations Supervisors are on duty during all test site operations that involve the Ops Center. The supervisors provide SA to clients or NUAIR pilots flying from within the Ops Center or provide remote assistance in the field via a communications suite. The result is much earlier awareness of traffic than can be provided by visual observers.
All of our clients and partners benefit from the highly dedicated team at NUAIR and The NY UAS Test Site and their expert knowledge of radars, other electronic sensors, communications, data retrieval, storage, presentation, cyber, and more. We are also working with many other industry stakeholders and federal government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). FAA executives have visited the Ops Center at the NY UAS Test Site in the past year, and we look forward to having them back to share the progress we are making toward achieving BVLOS authority.
We are very proud of the progress that is being made at the NY UAS Test Site and the testing services we can provide our clients. Our approach is entirely specific to our region and takes full advantage of the corridor’s uniquely expansive size and superb SA. We are proud to provide clients a site to test their products – from platforms, command and control links to payloads. At the same time we are able to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing needs and demands of our rapidly evolving industry. NUAIR is excited to be part of Gov. Cuomo’s vision for New York State to provide real value to the growing UAS industry now and for years to come.
We are currently on track to have the needed radar and technologies fully installed into the entire length of the corridor by September of this year. With this complete build-out of the 50-mile corridor we plan to have a capstone demonstration during our NY UAS Symposium held in September, which will entail a full 50-mile, unmanned flight from Oswego to Rome.
Tony Basile, Chief Operations Officer – NUAIR
Not too long ago DJI played a major role in forcing GoPro out of the consumer drone market. Admittedly, it didn’t help that GoPro’s Karma drone started falling out of the sky at random, but the timing of the release of the original Mavic Pro was another nail in the coffin for the US action cam manufacturer.
DJI is again going toe to toe with GoPro after today’s product launch: The Osmo Action Camera. The compact, rugged camera is a more sporty and versatile version of the handheld, gimbal-stabilized Osmo Pocket.
The Osmo Action can be seen as a confirmation of DJI’s new direction. Ever since the acquisition of Swedish camera company Hasselblad, the mass market of ground-based photography has been an obvious target. The latest product from DJI’s conveyor belt highlights the Chinese company’s shift toward, particularly when many thought a Phantom 5 might be on the cards.
DJI’s previous non-drone products (the Osmo Pocket and the Ronin series) have been all about telling visual stories with handheld devices. The Osmo Action is designed to be hands-free in demanding environments. It’s for adrenaline junkies as much as for professionals.
“A full suite of products for your creative needs”
“DJI has always pushed the limits of technology, and the content creators who love our products made clear they wanted us to push the limits of their creative potential too. Osmo Action is our cutting-edge answer to what the creative community demands: Exceptional image quality and stabilization in a unique and durable new form factor, with dual color screens and seamless software integration. For all types of creators who push their gear to the limits, Osmo Action sets the new standard,” said Roger Luo, DJI President.
“Whether you are capturing aerial content with Mavic 2, incredibly smooth content with Osmo Pocket, or heart-racing footage with Osmo Action, DJI offers a full suite of products for your creative needs.”
The Osmo Action: Ideal for life’s adventures?
The first aspect of the Osmo Action to focus on is its durability. In the words of DJI, it’s been “constructed to handle extreme conditions with ease.”
That translates to four protective features: It’s dustproof, shockproof (able to withstand drops from up to 5 feet/1.5 meters); waterproof (is capable of operating at a depth of 36 feet/11 meters without additional waterproof housing); and can operate in sub-freezing temperatures 14° Fahrenheit / -10 Celsius).
The Osmo Action has two color screens, on both the front and back. The idea is that the dual screen system offers more convenient scene composition while on the move. The 2.25-inch rear touchscreen has a water- and fingerprint-repelling coating, and the 1.4-inch front screen is designed to make vlogging and selfies simple. Both screens have a brightness of 750 nits to improve ease of use in bright sunlight.
The Osmo Action’s operating system combines a streamlined and functional physical design with flexible operation. Power on, initiate recording, and rotate through the video and photo capture modes in the blink of an eye with three dedicated buttons. SnapShot mode allows the Osmo Action to turn on and begin recording in under two seconds with a single press of the shutter button.
Osmo Action Camera: RockSteady Image quality
The Osmo Action has a 1/2.3-inch sensor that records 12-megapixel photos and 4K video at up to 60fps at 100Mbps.
A three-glass aspherical lens design records low-distortion content and aids in reducing warping effects. The lens cap is finished with two layers of anti-fingerprint coating to keep the shot clean during use, as well as an anti-reflective coating to reduce the unwanted effects of lens glare.
The Osmo Action is the first DJI handheld camera to include RockSteady, DJI’s Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) technology.
DJI says this allows users to record every movement in smooth, stable, high-quality video, even when recording 4K at 60fps.
The Osmo Action is also capable of High Dynamic Range (HDR) video in 4K/30fps, delivering an additional three stops of dynamic range to the scene, natural transitions between light and dark areas, and rich details that are often lost in complex lighting conditions.
In terms of performance, the Osmo Action has a removable battery with a run time of 93 minutes while recording at 4K at 30fps with RockSteady enabled. It can last for 135 minutes if recording at 1080p at 30fps without RockSteady.
Dual microphones let users take advantage of Osmo Action’s Voice Control, and a speaker ensures outstanding playback quality.
Osmo Action offers a wide variety of highly creative features that users can access with a few simple taps. While recording, you can select between:
▪️ Slo-mo: 8x slow motion in 1080p 240fps or 4x slow motion in 1080p 120fps creates a visually appealing effect when documenting action-packed scenes.
▪️ Timelapse: To turn minutes into seconds, Timelapse is for capturing unique content with the effect of the world moving faster.
▪️ Custom Exposure settings: Shoot for the stars with manual and semi-automatic settings that allow up to 120 seconds of exposure, perfect for capturing the night sky.
Accessories for the Osmo Action
The Osmo Action can be connected to the DJI Mimo app, which can connect the user’s mobile device with WiFi or Bluetooth for added functionality. These added functions include a showing a live feed of the camera, multiple story templates, in-app quick editing and more.
DJI is also launching an ecosystem of accessories to enhance the possibilities of Osmo Action:
▪️ Camera Frame Kit: Included with Osmo Action, the Camera Frame Kit offers a universal mount for additional accessories and a window for the LED indicator to show camera status in real time while protecting the device.
▪️ Adhesive Mounts: Attach Osmo Action to flat or curved surfaces including skateboards, bikes, helmets, and more to capture fast-paced moments. Both the curved and flat adhesive mounts are included with Osmo Action.
▪️ Waterproof Case: The waterproof case protects the device at depths down to 60 meters while providing a clear image using high-strength glass.
▪️ 3.5mm Adapter: The 3.5mm adapter offers users the ability to connect an external mic for professional sound recording.
▪️ Extension Rod: Capture unique angles using the Extension Rod, which features a rotatable phone holder and a ¼-inch screw adapter.
▪️ Floating Handle: The Floating Handle offers a comfortable grip for Osmo Action and keeps it floating when shooting in water.
▪️ Filters: Osmo Action comes with Neutral Density (ND), Polarizer, and underwater filters. ND filters (ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32) reduce light exposure in various environments, while Polarizer filters reduce reflections and increase color saturation for a more appealing image. Orange Seawater and Purple Freshwater filters restore the natural color of underwater scenes.
▪️ Charging Hub: Charge up to three batteries simultaneously in less than 130 minutes.
Osmo Action: Price and Availability
The Osmo Action retails for $349 USD and will start shipping as of today from the DJI store. It will ship from authorized dealers on May 22.
For an additional $29 USD, DJI Care Refresh offers comprehensive coverage as well as up to two replacement units within one year.
Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.