An update to the apps (and firmware to version 3.04) used to control DJI's Phantom Vision and Vision+ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allowing for autonomous flight means the craft can now properly be called drones. Developed by Chinese company Shenzhen Da-Jiang, the consumer quadcopters with onboard cameras are some of the most popular on the market.
Piloting a quadcopter using a remote control that is connected to a smartphone or tablet computer is no doubt fun, but it can be a bit tricky at times as well—trying to keep track of the vehicle while also watching onscreen can be disorienting. To make things easier, autonomous flight has become a standard feature on many such UAVs. Now, DJI has added the capability to its Phantom 2 Vision and Vision+ UAVs as well.
Phantom 2 Vision and Vision+ UAVs are controlled by pilots using a double joystick remote control connected to a smartphone running an app called Ground Station—that app has now been updated to allow pilots to add GPS waypoints (up to 16) as pins on a map that constitute a flight path. Once all the waypoints are added, the pilot can give a Go command and the UAV will take off, fly from one point to the next and then return to a designated spot where it will land itself. The UAV can fly for a total distance of 5 kilometers with a maximum altitude of 200 meters. It must stay within 500 meters of the pilot. Pilots can preprogram altitude for each waypoint and the speed at which it flies. There is also a "Return to Home" button that causes the UAV to do just that, immediately. Pilots can also take over control at any time if they wish to do so.
While autonomous flight for UAVs has some obvious advantages (you don't have to fly it, and can instead focus on what is being shown from the camera) it also has some disadvantages, the main being that if an obstacle is in the flight path, the UAV will crash into it.
The updated iOS and Android apps (and firmware) can be found at the App Store or on Google Play.