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DJI aims for the best first-person drone experience with new goggles, controller and more

By Darrell Etherington

New gear from DJI will equip you with everything you need to become the best first-person drone racer that’s ever graced the Earth — you’ll be the Anakin Skywalker of FPV drone racers. The company is launching a new suite of products specifically to make the most of Digital First Person Viewing (FPV) when operating drones, with a wide range of compatibility.

The DJI Digital FPV Ecosystem includes a set of FPV goggles, a transmission unit that you attach to your drone of choice, a camera that also attaches to the transmitter unit and the drone body and an FPV controller. Together, they provide the “first low latency HD video transmission signal,” according to DJI, with total end-to-end latency of just 28 milliseconds, per the specs, and the ability to transmit 720p footage at 120fps with that low-lag transmission.

There are a few key ingredients here that are tuned specifically to the needs of drone racers: low latency is important because you want the video feed to be as real-time as possible when you’re racing high-speed drones around courses with tight turns and a field of airborne competitors you can potentially run into. And high-quality speed, with a high refresh rate for the video, is important for similar reasons — you need to “see” accurately from the perspective of the drone in order to race it effectively.

The system can also transmit at a distance of up to 2.5 miles, and there are eight channels of 5.8GHz wireless frequency supported by the Air Unit so you can fly as many as eight drones at the same time connected to a single system. Users can even change feeds on the fly when multiple units are in use, letting them take a look at the competition or just watch the race from an FPV perspective if they don’t actually have a drone in the running.

As for the camera, it offers a 150-degree field of view, and while the feed is optimized for action at 720p 120fps as mentioned, you can export video at either 1080p 60 or 720p 120 depending on your editing needs. The live video transmission also optimizes by first pixelating around the edges and keeping the center clear when it needs to increase broadcast efficiency under heavy load and in sub-optimal connection conditions, so that the important part of the action remains in focus for racers.

DJI will be selling these in two packages, including a “Fly More Combo” that retails for $929 and an “Experience Combo” that will be $819, with the main difference being that you get the remote controller in the mix with the “‘Fly More” version.

Lessons from the hardware capital of the world

By Brian Heater

A week is obviously not enough time to truly understand a market as massive and fascinating as China. Hell, it’s not really even enough time to adjust to the 12-hour time difference from New York. That said, each of the three visits I’ve taken to the country in the past two years has yielded some useful insights into my role as hardware editor here at TechCrunch.

Late last week, I got back from an eight-day trip to Shenzhen in the Guangdong Province of South China and nearby Hong Kong. In some respects, the cities are worlds apart, though a newly opened high-speed rail system has reduced the trip to 30 minutes. Customs issues aside, it’s the height of convenience. Though for political and cultural reasons I’ll not get into here, some have bemoaned the access it’s provided.

This particular visit was sort of a scouting trip. In November, TechCrunch will be hosting its first Hardware Battlefield event in a couple of years. Previous events had been held at CES for reasons of easy access to young startups. This time out, however, we’ve opted to go straight to the source.

The birthplace of hardware

DJI looks to assemble drones in California as government concerns mount

By Brian Heater

With increased pressure on Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE, Shenzhen-based drone giant DJI has no doubt had cause for concern of late. In late-2017, the U.S. government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office raised concern that the company’s camera-equipped flying machines could be sending data back to China.

A few weeks back, the Department of Homeland Security similarly raised warning over commercial drones from China. In a hearing entitled “Drone Security: Enhancing Innovation and Mitigating Supply Chain Risks” last week, meanwhile, the National Defense University’s Harry Wingo told the Senate Transportation Subcommittee, “American geospatial information is flown to Chinese data centers at an unprecedented level. This literally gives a Chinese company a view from above of our nation.”

DJI fired back in a letter provided to TechCrunch, noting,

Because the drone industry is becoming an increasingly critical engine for small American businesses as well as the entire U.S. economy, it is essential that decisions affecting key components of the industry are based on fact. We are deeply concerned that, left unchecked, the unsubstantiated speculation and inaccurate information presented during your Subcommittee hearing will put the entire U.S. drone industry at risk, causing a ripple effect that will stunt economic growth and handcuff public servants who use DJI drones to protect the public and save lives.

The letter also breaks down some of the finer points of the discussion as follows,

  • DJI drones do not share flight logs, photos or videos unless the drone pilot deliberately chooses to do so. They do not automatically send flight data to China or anywhere else. They do not automatically transmit photos or videos over the internet. This data stays solely on the drone and on the pilot’s mobile device. DJI cannot share customer data it never receives.

  • DJI’s professional pilot app has a built-in setting to disconnect all internet connection, as an extra precaution for pilots performing sensitive flights. Unlike some technology companies, DJI does not sell or monetize customer data.

  • DJI embeds password and data encryption features in the design of our products. This provides customers with secure access to the drone and its onboard data. In cases when U.S. drone users do choose to share their data, it is only uploaded to U.S. cloud servers.

  • DJI operates a global Bug Bounty Program so the world’s security researchers can identify unforeseen security issues, and we hire independent security experts to test our products. These are just some of the steps we take to assure high-security users they can use our products with confidence.

With increased speculation, the company is looking to assemble some of its products stateside. A warehouse in Cerritos, California is set to be repurposed to build those drone models sold in the U.S., in order to better comply with government regulation. 

The company tells TechCrunch,

DJI is committed to investing in America and providing U.S. government workers, first responders, and public servants with customized solutions that meet their unique security, safety, and procurement needs. As part of our long-term commitment to America that began in 2015 with our research and development facility located in Palo Alto, we are opening a new production facility in California and filing for compliance under the U.S. Trade Agreements Act. This new investment will expand DJI’s footprint in the U.S. so we can better serve our customers, create U.S. jobs, and strengthen the U.S. drone economy. We look forward to working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in its review of our application.

DJI hopes that assembling products in California will help the company better comply with the Trade Agreements Act, a move that comes as preps the release of the DJI Government Edition, a repurposed Mavic Pro drone designed for use by government agencies.

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