Drone-flying has been an elusive hobby for those with little faith in their flying ability.

The idea of fishing a thousand-dollar-plus flying machine out of trees and gutters is enough to turn the most hardy beginners off drones, but DJI’s newly released Phantom 4 could change that.

The $1400 USD addition to the DJI line is the most expensive Phantom model yet, but it comes with a serious upgrade: it can autonomously avoid obstacles.

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The drone features five cameras, two forward facing, two on the underside along with the 4K central camera. Together the images are compiled in the DJI’s software to produce a 3D model of the surrounding environment, allowing the drone to maneuver around obstacles.

The DJI Phantom 4 represents a new milestone in the era of consumer drones.

While autonomous obstacle avoidance technology has already been a beta feature of specialized professional drones and limited concept releases, the DJI Phantom 4 represents the first ever consumer-ready iteration of such software, bringing complex maneuvers and filming techniques within reach of the beginner drone pilot.

The drone is capable of avoiding buildings, trees, other drones, aircraft and even humans. Test footage of the drones show it making graceful arcs around buildings, crowds and pine trees. The autonomous feature allows amateur flyers to take ambitiously close footage without risking damage to the $1400 USD vehicle, bringing down a major barrier for new entrants.

“With the Phantom 4, we are entering an era where even beginners can fly with confidence,” said DJI CEO Frank Wang. The feature can also be disabled for more experienced pilots.

DJI Phantom 4-2

Autonomous object avoidance isn’t the only beginner-friendly feature added to the latest Phantom: ‘TapFly’ allows the drone users to set a maximum distance and simply tap the screen to reorientate the drone, meaning that users no longer have to tackle the dual stick controller to get a smooth video capture.

The drone also added ‘ActiveTrack’ , a feature that can 3D map a moving object or person and automatically adjust to keep it (or them) in frame. The follow mode allows the drone to track at just 4-5 feet from the subject.

The Phantom 4 also features a larger battery, with over 28 minutes of fly time as well as an updated 4K camera with wide angle lens and 12-megapixel still shots.

DJI will be teaming up with Apple to sell the latest drone. DJI CEO Frank Wang is a self-professed fan of Apple and Steve Jobs, incorporating the brands minimalistic design into the DJI models long before the partnership.

The new pairing will boost the brand into the offline space. DJI opened their first flagship store in Shenzhen last November, though an overwhelming majority of the company’s sales are still online.

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Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or catecadell@technode.com

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