The Obstacle Avoidance Drone: An In-Depth Guide
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The lightweight and fragile nature of drones makes them very susceptible to damage caused by impacts. This often leads to costly repairs and fixes that hold up only until the next time your drone crashes. For these reasons, drones with built-in obstacle avoidance features are complete game-changers.
Obstacle avoidance drones are becoming more and more popular among flyers. They present a slightly higher initial investment but pay off as soon as you start flying them. With this technology, you can fly your gadget carefree and enjoy every minute of it. But, for this to be true, you need to pick a reliable drone with a precise obstacle avoidance system.
On this page, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about obstacle avoidance technology in drones. Not only this, but we’ll share with you our top picks for the best obstacle avoidance drones on the market.
How Does Obstacle Avoidance Work in Drones?
Before we can dig deep into the topic of obstacle avoidance drones, it’s crucial to understand how this technology works in these devices. In simple terms, let’s say that the “obstacle avoidance ” technology isn’t really a single technology. Instead, it’s more of a broad term that covers many complex technologies that work in unison to help the drone avoid collisions. These technologies include:
- Obstacle Avoidance Algorithm – Pre-set rules that all of the operating sensors must follow in order to detect and avoid obstacles. The obstacle avoidance algorithm is one of the essential parts of the technology and needs to be functional. Even if the drone has the best sensors and systems in place, a poorly written and buggy algorithm renders all of them ineffective.
- SLAM – Short for “Simultaneous Localization and Mapping”, this is an essential component in all obstacle avoidance systems, not just those installed in drones. SLAM allows the drone to map out its surroundings in real-time and orient itself accordingly. The way this works is that SLAM already has a pre-existing map built in its memory and only refines it as the robot moves through the environment.
- Sensor Fusion – As the name itself gives away, this includes fusing several separate sensors in one system that can more effectively determine something than any of the sensors can do on their own. Sensor fusion is especially important in drones that are used for high-precision work.
- Flight Controller – As the obstacle avoidance sensors obtain data, they send it to the flight controller in real-time. With this information, the flight controller then directs the drone to fly around or above, or to just stop to avoid the obstacle.
When combined, all of these technologies create a smooth system that’s capable of more than just avoiding imminent impact. Many drones can also use this technology to recognize and track a variety of objects. This means that you can set them to follow people, animals, vehicles, or any other moving object.
Types of Obstacle Avoidance Sensors
Another essential thing to note when talking about sensors is that there are many different types of them, and not all drone manufacturers use the same obstacle avoidance sensors. To help you better understand the difference between them, let’s take a closer look at each and briefly talk about their characteristics:
These sensors capture and calculate the environment by using two-dimensional cameras positioned at different viewpoints. Essentially, this works to create similar sensing as we get with human vision. Stereo vision identifies corresponding pixels from the two cameras to map out a 3D-generated image. The more corresponding points it identifies, the better the result is.
If you’ve ever watched a nature documentary, you might’ve seen how bats and porpoises use ultrasonic sensors to send out a high-frequency sound and then time how long it takes for the sound’s echo to get back in order to map their surroundings.
Drone ultrasonic sensors function the same way. Each ultrasonic drone sensor has two small openings: one to send out the high-frequency sound and the other to receive the returning waves.
Time of Flight Sensors
Time of Flight (ToF) sensors are more intricate compared to the previous ones, mainly because they consist of more components. A typical Time of Flight camera is made up of a lens, sensor, interface, and an integrated light source.
Paradoxically, this multi-faceted system provides for a simpler avoidance algorithm, mainly because the algorithm doesn’t have to do as much. ToF sensors are also among the most accurate ones.
The most Star Wars-esque technology out of the lot, a Lidar sensor works by firing a short laser pulse and measuring how long it takes it to reach an object and get back. It then calculates the distance from the known speed of light to determine if there are any nearby objects. Aside from its use in obstacle avoidance drones, Lidar is widely used in land surveying and geodesy.
An infrared obstacle avoidance system consists of an infrared transmitter, infrared receiver, and a potentiometer. The technology behind this is quite simple. If there’s no obstacle, the infrared ray will weaken and disappear in the distance. If there is an obstacle, the ray will return back to the receiver, which will confirm that there’s an obstacle in front.
Infrared sensors work on a specific frequency, preventing them from getting confused by any other visible light. For this technology to be precise, the transmitter and receiver must be optimally matched in terms of sensor sensitivity.
Monocular vision sensors use only one camera to capture the image and make a 3D reconstruction from it. In simple words, a monocular sensor uses a streamlined algorithm to compare captured images to its pictorial cues.
Monocular cameras are among the least expensive and most popular ones. This means that drones that use this technology are often more budget-friendly than those applying any of the above-listed sensor technologies.
Why Buy an Obstacle Avoidance Drone
Now that we understand the technology behind obstacle avoidance drones, let’s move on to the next crucial topic – why do you need it for your drone? Obstacle avoidance drones come with a long list of benefits and advantages compared to regular drones. Here are some of the most prominent advantages of obstacle avoidance drones:
- Safer Flying – The first and most obvious benefit you’ll get with an obstacle avoidance drone is that you’ll have a safer flying experience. A regular drone can easily hit and crash if you lose your bearings just for a second. When you have a drone with an obstacle avoidance mechanism, you’ll fly your drone more comfortably, knowing that your drone will automatically avoid any obstacles it encounters.
- More Enjoyable Flying – This benefit directly stems from the previous one. When you get rid of the fear of crashing your drone, you can enjoy flying it worry-free. Regardless of whether you’re into drone flying as a hobby or want to incorporate it in a business, a drone with obstacle avoidance will make all the difference when you fly it.
- Lower Insurance – If you use your drone for professional purposes, such as filming or aerial photography, you’ve probably spent thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars on the drone and equipment. When it comes to such significant investments, it’s crucial to have insurance in case of any accidents. And, having a drone with built-in obstacle avoidance systems will help you significantly lower your pricey insurance costs.
- Indoor Flying – Flying in open space outdoors is easy compared to flying indoors. Factories and warehouses that employ drones for various tasks can significantly benefit from obstacle avoidance technology. This is because such a drone can autonomously navigate indoors on a pre-set path without the requirements of having a pilot.
A Detailed List of the Best Obstacle Avoidance Drones
Now that we’ve covered everything there is to know about the types of drone obstacle avoidance technology and how it works, we can move to the main topic of this page – the top obstacle avoidance drones on the market.
To create a baseline value from which we could compare each of the drones, we’ll focus on each product’s obstacle avoidance technology, flight performance and battery life, camera, and overall value for money. With all of this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the best of the best and discuss some of the most prominent features of each drone on our list.
Speaking of obstacle avoidance drones, Skydio 2 is one product that’s primarily designed to be a drone that flies itself. It is an autonomous drone that raises the bar to offer one of the best object- and people-tracking commercial drones on the current market. Here’s a more detailed rundown of this drone’s features:
- Obstacle Avoidance Technology – In terms of obstacle detection and avoidance systems, the Skydio 2 model presents a massive improvement over its predecessor. It utilizes the Skydio Autonomy technology, which analyzes its environment to predict and calculate multiple outcomes each second. For this, it makes use of its six 4K cameras that create a 3D map of the drone’s surroundings.
- Flight Performance and Battery Life – The model’s improved obstacle avoidance technology isn’t the only great thing when it comes to its features. With a weight of just 775 grams (27.3 ounces), Skydio 2 can offer a flight time of up to 23 minutes and an impressive service ceiling of up to 15,000 feet. Moreover, it provides exceptional long-distance performance with a transmission range of 3.5 kilometers (2.17 miles).
- Camera – Skydio 2 boasts a cool 4K camera capable of consistently providing high-quality footage with stable color composition. It’s able to shoot 4K in 60fps. You can also turn down the quality and shoot in 1080p with 120fps. That said, we should also note that it’s not the best performer in low-light conditions.
- Value for Money – The Skydio 2 Starter Kit costs $999, while the Pro Kit costs nearly three times as much. This makes it closer to the expensive side of the range and certainly not affordable for everyone’s budget. If you’re looking for a drone that you’ll primarily fly manually, this one isn’t the best option. That said, if you’re searching for a drone with the best obstacle avoidance technology, Skydio 2 offers fantastic value for money.
DJI Mavic Air
DJI Mavic Air is the perfect drone for travelers. It’s small, light, and comes packed with enough features to meet the demands of even advanced drone flyers. Let’s take a closer look at Mavic Air’s characteristics:
- Obstacle Avoidance Technology – Mavic Air can sense objects in three different directions. But, what makes this drone’s obstacle avoidance technology better than most of its competitors is that it can actually recalculate and fly around obstacles instead of just hovering in place like most drones do.
- Flight Performance and Battery Life – Weighing at 430 grams (15.1 ounces) and foldable, the DJI Mavic Air is probably the best travel drone you can buy. Due to its smaller stature, the DJI Mavic Air has a battery life of only 21 minutes. It can reach a top speed of 68 km/h (40 mph).
- Camera – Despite its small size and relatively light weight, the Mavic Air can support filming in 4K, albeit only up to 30fps. It also supports 2.7K filming in 60fps and 1080p filming in up to 120fps. It does come with a camera stabilizer, making it a great drone for filming action shots while in the following mode.
- Value for Money – At its price point of around $700 to $800, the DJI Mavic Air is certainly one of the best value-for-money drones you can purchase today if you’re looking for a top obstacle avoidance drone. For this reason, this DJI drone is one of the best-selling commercial drones. It’s frequently sold out, so make sure to buy it now on Amazon while it’s still available.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
DJI Phantom 4 Pro is one of the most popular consumer drones on the market, and for many good reasons. To get a better insight into why so many users love this obstacle avoidance drone, check out its most prominent characteristics.
- Obstacle Avoidance Technology – Its predecessor, Phantom 4, already had obstacle avoidance sensors, but the Phantom 4 Pro further builds on this feature. This model features front and rear obstacle sensors, even when the drone is flying at its top speed. Obstacle avoidance doesn’t work in every mode, and in some modes, it’s only partially available.
- Flight Performance and Battery Life – This drone’s maximum speed heavily depends on the mode you’re flying it in. For example, in the pre-set GPS-assisted mode, you can expect a speed of up to 48 km/h (30 mph). However, in sport mode, you can reach speeds up to 76 km/h (48 mph). Phantom 4 Pro’s battery life is solid, if not slightly above-average. You can expect up to 30 minutes of flight time under ideal conditions.
- Camera – While the obstacle avoidance technology and performance features might not stand out from what the other drones on this list have to offer, the real reason why you should consider the Phantom 4 Pro is its fantastic camera.
- Value for Money – If you have any questions about whether or not the Phantom 4 Pro is worth its price, just keep in mind that its camera alone will cost you more than half of the drone price if you purchase it separately. Its price of around $1,500 on Amazon may seem a bit steep, but this drone is worth every penny.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Taking its predecessor’s design, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is bigger than the original Mavic Pro but still easily foldable. It is one of the most impressive but also expensive consumer drones on the market. Let’s take a closer look at its key features:
- Obstacle Avoidance Technology – The Mavic 2 Pro has forward, backward, downward, and lateral vision sensors. Combined, these make for omnidirectional obstacle detection that works perfectly, providing that the lighting conditions are adequate. There’s also a critical manufacturer note that the Mavic 2 Pro’s obstacle avoidance systems don’t work correctly at speeds of over 50km/h (31mph).
- Flight Performance and Battery Life – DJI Mavic 2 Pro comes with interchangeable batteries that provide up to 31 minutes of flight time and an impressive speed of up to 72km/h (45mph). We should also mention that it weighs above the 900 gram (2 pounds) limit and requires FAA registration for recreational US flyers.
- Camera – For its size and weight class, the Mavic 2 Pro can support exceptional visual performance. Unlike some other drones on our list, the Mavic 2 Pro can’t push 4K in 60fps, as you can only get up to 30fps. If you decide to drop the resolution to 2.7K, you can enjoy up to 60fps. Lastly, filming in 1080p supports up to 120fps.
- Value for Money – There’s no arguing just how packed with features the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone is. But, if you’re looking for the most affordable drone avoidance drone, this might not be the best choice. Coming at a price of a little shy of $2,000, it’s not for everyone’s budget. But, if you’re looking for a top drone and are ready to pay for it, you can buy the Mavic 2 Pro now on Amazon.
Walkera Vitus 320
If you’re a casual drone flyer, Walkera Vitus might not sound as familiar as DJI, but this drone is seriously underrated in terms of its obstacle avoidance capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at Walkera Vitus 320’s features:
- Obstacle Avoidance Technology – The Walkera Vitus 320 has a very sophisticated obstacle avoidance system, as it uses two separate sensors, an Infrared sensor and a Time of Flight sensor. The latter detects obstacles that are left, right, or in front of the drone, up to 5 meters (16 feet) away. Simultaneously, the Infrared sensor helps the drone in positioning and precision hovering. The drone’s Infrared sensor also makes indoor flying possible, even without a satellite signal.
- Flight Performance and Battery Life – It has a reliable battery of 5200 mAh, which provides for around 25 minutes of flight time in ideal conditions. The drone’s maximum speed is 60 km/h (37.5 mph). Most importantly, its unloaded weight is just below the 900 gram (2 pounds) mark, so you don’t need an FAA registration for flying it.
- Camera – The Walkera Vitus 320 camera packs a great punch and is capable of filming in 4K UHD quality. In this resolution, you can rely on up to 30 fps. Alternatively, you can also turn down the resolution to 1080p with 60fps. Besides this, the drone boasts a three-axis mini gimbal for additional filming stability. The camera can capture images at 12 megapixels. It also supports first person view in up to 1080p streaming quality.
- Value for Money – As a product from a lesser-known drone manufacturer, the Walkera Vitus 320 comes at a much affordable price than a brand-name drone of the same features would go for. Its price hovers right around the $900 mark, depending on where you buy it. If you’re interested in purchasing the Walkera Vitus 320, check out its latest price on Amazon.
Obstacle Avoidance Drones – A Quick Sum Up
Obstacle avoidance systems are quickly becoming the norm in all advanced and medium-quality drones. Such features are a necessity if you want to ensure maximum longevity and safety of your expensive gadget. And, with the information we shared with you on this page, you’ll have no trouble picking the best obstacle avoidance drone based on your budget and performance preferences.
Just keep in mind the types of obstacle avoidance systems we talked about, and make sure to pay attention to every detail when picking your next drone. That said if you don’t want to put a lot of research into investigating every drone out there, simply select one of our recommended options. The five products we listed on this page stand out as the very best in terms of obstacle avoidance drones, and you won’t go wrong picking any of them.