DJI's Mavic Pro Settles the Drone-UAV Debate With Full Autonomy

This takes drone technology to the next level.


The Mavic Pro, a new drone DJI revealed Wednesday, promises to end the debate once and for all about what is and isn’t a drone, redefining society’s relationship with the machines. The compact flying machine shoots 4K video for up to 27 minutes, with an optional self-driving feature giving it the ability to track subjects. Ground-based humans can control the machine by making gestures at it, like making a “Y” shape with arms to start recording. The fact that the Mavic Pro is capable of flying itself unaided pushes it outside the realm of toy helicopters and into serious drone territory.

“DJI has spent a decade making it easier for anyone to fly, and by rethinking everything about how drones look, we have created an entirely new type of aerial platform for anyone to explore their creativity,” said Frank Wang, DJI CEO and founder, in a statement.

DJI has long claimed that it makes drones, but the Mavic Pro undoubtedly matches the definition. Traditionally, the distinction between a drone and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been that a drone flies itself with a level of autonomy, through pre-programmed software or through artificial intelligence.

A UAV, like a drone, does not have a human pilot sat in a cockpit, but many argue that if a human controlling the aircraft remotely, it’s a UAV and not a drone. This is complicated by marketing that has willfully confused the two over the years, so dinky toy helicopters hit the shelves emblazoned with the term “drone,” even though they have done nothing to deserve that name. But drones like the Mavic Pro, actual drones, will shift these new machines from things controlled by people to things that people can take over if needed.

The feature is a fine-tuned version of the tracking that appeared on the Phantom 4, DJI’s older drone. Initial hands-on (well, hands-off) impressions are receptive: Recode described the Mavic Pro’s implementation as feeling “oddly like having a friendly pet by your side.”

None of this comes cheap, though. DJI has slapped a $999 retail price on the Mavic Pro plus remote control. The drone can be controlled with a smartphone app, though, so DJI also sells a version sans controller for $749.

Watch the new drone in action here:

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