Gadgets for humans

DJI’s smarter Phantom 4 drone can avoid obstacles and track objects all on its own

DJI just unveiled its latest flagship drone, and it’s smarter than ever. The DJI Phantom 4 is the first consumer drone that can adjust its path according to the world around it, approaching some semblance of autonomy.

This level of autonomy is largely thanks two additional cameras and two ultrasonic sensors. You can try to smash it against a wall, but the drone will stop itself just short. It’s even able to decide if it should speed up or slow down to avoid obstacles, including moving people.

In short, it doesn’t need you to baby it as much as before – although you can always turn it off if you’re something of a pro-level pilot. In fact, there’s something called a “sport mode” that lets the drone top out at 45 miles per hour – or 10 miles per hour above the Phantom 3.

Phantom 4 Still 7

It’s not just avoiding obstacles that makes it smarter than its predecessors. You can use something called TapFly to have the drone fly in preset patterns automatically, so that you don’t have to worry about shaky video footage. DJI also says its drone is 5 times more stable than the prior version, and can hold its place in the air without drifting.

But it’s a feature called ActiveTrack that will be particularly appealing to videographers. You draw a circle around a subject on your screen, and the drone does all the work to follow the subject. You can either sit back and relax, or make adjustment to the distance and framing if you’d prefer. According to The Verge, you can do a perfect 360-degree tracking shot around a subject by simply holding left or right on the joystick – no piloting expertise required.

The Phantom 4 will retail for $1399 when it goes on sale on March 15 at Apple Stores (by the end of March elsewhere). That’s $150 more than the Phantom 3 cost when it launched, but it sounds like the new features will make it worth it.

➤ DJI Phantom 4

Published March 1, 2016 — 17:11 UTC