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It seems like just yesterday that the first DJI quadcopter arrived at B&H—the Phantom 1. Well, things have come a long way. Cameras have gotten sharper, gimbals have gotten more precise, flight batteries have gotten easier to maintain and are more efficient, to mention just a few technological improvements.
With the Inspire 1, DJI brings together all that has been learned from the Phantom, Phantom 2, and Phantom 2 Vision models, amalgamating them into what promises to be the ultimate aerial video and photography solution. Glancing at the specs, probably the first feature most people will notice is the dedicated camera with 4K video recording capability. The camera supports both DCI "Full" 4K (4096 x 2160) in 24 and 25p, as well as UltraHD 4K (3840 x 2160) in 24, 25, and 30p—making the Inspire camera the first dedicated flight camera with 4K capability. The camera also takes 12-megapixel stills in compressed JPEG and RAW DNG, and can record 1080p and 720p video at up to 60 fps.
Rigid-mounted FPV cameras don't do videographers—and often even photographers—any good since vibration from the props, plus wind turbulence, translate into camera shake. This makes a two- or three-axis gimbal an essential part of any aircraft-mounted camera. Two-axis gimbals are good for stabilization but, as the aircraft alters heading, the camera turns along with it; no good where you are trying to film a fixed point. The Inspire 1 uses a three-axis system with a full 360-degree pan range. This means the camera can maintain a more or less fixed angle on the subject no matter what the quadcopter does, so long as it doesn't flip upside down! In single-operator flights, a dial on the transmitter is used to control the gimbal tilt and pan. For extra control, two transmitters may be employed, one held by the pilot and one by a dedicated camera operator. A special 5.8GHz link is provided to tether the two transmitters together wirelessly.
Taking cues from DJI's professional line, including the Spreading Winds S1000, available at B&H, the Inspire 1 features a retractable landing-gear design. Port and starboard motors are set in a “T” formation to the carbon fiber struts that sit low during takeoff and landing, with feet below the prop motors acting as landing skids. Once safely in the air, they raise, providing the camera with an unobstructed 360-degree panorama. Not only does this feature serve a very useful practical purpose, it gives the Inspire 1 a very unique look, indeed.
We don't have full details yet on the Inspire 1's flight controller. Most likely it will be similar to the Naza-M, A2, and Wookong-M systems that DJI currently has on the market for its own, and third-party, quad-, hex-, and octo-rotor platforms. Given the company’s track record, I would be very surprised if the Inspire 1's flight controller doesn't include staple features like IOC (Intelligent Orientation Control), POI (Point of Interest), and the return-home failsafe. We do know the Inspire 1 has GPS, but what's more interesting is a new feature dubbed "Optical Flow."
Optical Flow promises indoor flying where a GPS signal can't be received. While I don't condone flying a 6.5-pound, 23" diagonal quadcopter indoors, in a large enough space and in the hands of an experienced pilot, it is now possible to fly with the relatively safety of intelligent stabilization. Optical Flow appears to use a special camera that takes samples of the ground 50 times per second, combined with ultra-sonic waves to keep track of where the quadcopter is in 2D space—how far it has moved and how fast it is moving. This allows fixed hovering, by keying in on a specific spot, and means the Inspire 1 can stop pretty much on a dime.
Until recently, most aerial systems relied on analog composite video transmitters to relay video to the ground end. The DJI Lightbridge system, released earlier this year, changed that. Lightbridge is able to compress an HD signal and send it over distances comparable to analog. Previously, this required the installation of additional components alongside the flight control system, and was impractical in small aircraft such as quadcopters. With the Inspire 1, the Lightbridge electronics are integrated. With a mobile device running the Lightbridge app, you can monitor a real-time 720p signal, as well as view flight telemetry data. It features a line-of-sight range of up to 1.2 miles.
Initially, it looks like the Inspire 1 will ship as a "ready-to-fly" bundle. This means that a pre-bound transmitter, flight battery, and battery charger will be included. The battery used by the Inspire 1 incorporates smart circuitry much like the Phantom 2 and S1000 batteries with which you may be familiar. The advantage is simplified charger and battery maintenance compared to standard RC LiPo batteries, which require separate balancing leads and, in some cases, have to be timed when recharging to avoid overcharge. The drawback, at least to those coming from the hobbyist side, is that you are locked into DJI’s propriety battery system.
For fliers looking for a turnkey solution that doesn't require complicated assembly and piecing together parts, the Inspire 1 looks as though it's set to be a serious contender. For more information as well as availability status, as it becomes available, please visit the B&H product page.