There are several key characteristics coupled with numerous features that make today’s mainstream drones. Whether we’re talking about bulky models such as the Phantom 4 Pro by DJI, or smaller buggers like Hubsan Zino or Parrot Anafi, we can agree that the key factors that make top-tier drones are high-quality cameras with hardware image stabilization, GPS-assisted features, autonomous flight modes, and lengthy flight time/range.
However, there’s one thing that only the crème de la crème of mainstream models have these days. What was once hardware-image stabilization, is now obstacle avoidance – the feature that’s available on only the best, most expensive drones available out there.
Yep, as the title suggests – we’re going to be focusing on drones with obstacle avoidance today! There’s not a lot of them available on the market, only a handful of top-tier models that are more suitable for commercial than casual usage scenarios.
There are several distinctive collision avoidance systems incorporated in these drones. They work wonders for keeping the drone safe and sound, avoiding potential issues that could lead to expensive crashes.
If crashing is your main worry and the only reason why you still haven’t bought a drone, perhaps this piece will convince you there’s nothing to worry about. Obstacle avoidance drones are widely available and if you’re really that afraid of crashing them, you should definitely inspect the following five models:
Best Obstacle Avoidance Drones Currently Available on the Market
Here’s the actual list of our top five awesome drones with obstacle avoidance:
|Image||Name||Camera||Range||Flight Time||Best offer|
|5. DJI Mavic Air||4K||3km||20min||See best offer|
|4. Skydio 2||4K||3km||23min||N/A|
|3. DJI Phantom 4 Pro||4K||7km||27min||See best offer|
|2. Autel EVO||4K||7km||30min||See best offer|
|1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro||4K||8km||30min||See best offer|
5. DJI Mavic Air
The first drone we’re going to talk about today is DJI Mavic Air! It’s an intricate little feller that ought to surprise most of you with its affordable price tag, foldable design, and marvelous performance that’ll sweep you off your feet. Yep, when it comes to price/performance ratio, only a few can go toe to toe with DJI Mavic Air. If you’re looking for drones with obstacle avoidance, however, this is as affordable as they come!
Yep, the price/performance ratio is probably the best thing about this drone! And the competition is quite tough, seeing as this little bugger is small, foldable, powerful, and comes with three batteries in its long-range package, AKA Fly More Combo.
Numbers-wise, DJI Mavic Air is a bit underwhelming with just 20ish minutes of operating time. However, its range improves the overall marks, capping at 4 kilometers which isn’t half bad for such a small and affordable little bugger.
When it comes to the feature DJI Mavic Air utilizes, there’s a whole bunch we need to mention here. Let’s start off with the basics such as failsafe, return to home, and GPS. All medium-priced models feature this stuff these days, and it’s safe to say DJI Mavic Air belongs to the top portion of this sector. As far as advanced features go, DJI Mavic Air has access to TapFly, ActiveTrack, and QuickShots. The latter is a set of DJI custom made autonomous flying modes which capture brilliant aerial footage time and time again.
As for Mavic Air’s obstacle avoidance tech, it uses an advance form of VIO within the already well-known FLightAutonomy 2.0 OA system. This system uses an enormous amount of data captured by the main 4K camera coupled with forward, backward and downward vision sensors as well as downward-facing infrared sensors.
4. Skydio 2
Skydio 2 is another very important model in the grand scheme of drones with obstacle avoidance. The second-gen Skydio drone features what’s marketed as the most advanced AI-driven obstacle avoidance system currently available on the market, and that’s exactly what we’re going to focus on right from the start!
AI-Driven Obstacle Avoidance
Skydio 2 is the newest drone on this list, so it’s not really that surprising to see it feature what’s probably the most sophisticated collision avoidance system on the market. Believe it or not, Skydio 2 sports 45MP of imaging data coming from six 200-degree cameras whose images overlap. This overlapping ensures Skydio can see everything around itself, and with crystal clear resolution, further boosting its ability to sense, detect, and avoid obstacles.
These overlapping cameras are only a half of the obstacle avoidance system. The other half is the brains of the operation, the mighty Nvidia Jetson TX2 AI-computing device featuring 256GPU cores. To put things into perspective, it’s able to do 1.3 trillion operations per second, which makes Skydio 2 the smartest obstacle avoidance drone currently available on the market.
What About Its Performance?
Skydio’s performance won’t disappoint you, that’s for sure! Even though it’s not exactly on par with the likes of DJI Mavic 2 Pro, it still delivers solid numbers across the board. Battery duration goes up to around 23 minutes, max speed hovers around the 36mph mark, and can fly as far as 3.5 kilometers away from its dedicated controller. Talking about controllers, Skydio Beacon is another noteworthy factor. It’s basically a GPS tracking device that allows Skydio to follow you anywhere, even if it doesn’t have direct line of sight.
As for the camera, we’re looking at a very capable Sony IMX577 sensor featuring the notorious RedDragon QCS605, capable of achieving 40K at 60FPS with HDR support.
3. DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Let’s face it, it doesn’t come more mainstream and premium than the DJI Phantom lineup of ultra high.end drones. As was the case with previous ones, Phantom 4 also got its upgraded version that brags with the Pro suffix. Needless to say, it has a few incremental improvements while the rest of the build is pretty much the same.
It still has that awesome 4K camera with amazing image and video quality. It is no surprise since it is mounted on a state of the art gimbal stabilization system (3-axis, of course) which provides the 20mpx sensor with silk smooth environment for capturing breathtaking aerial moments.
As I already mentioned above, Phantom 4 Pro has an amazing 7 kilometers of interference-free operating range. This number is outstanding and you definitely won’t need more than that, no matter what you’re doing. The battery is not to be taken for granted either. We are talking about a powerful DJI’s 5870mAh smart battery which can last up to half an hour on a single full charge.
The controller has remained the same, although that’s not a bad thing since it was good. You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. And last but not least, I feel the need to talk a bit about its features. As expected, Phantom 4 Pro is filled with various handy features, some of which you will never even use…
Smart, Innovative Features
But still, they are here and it’s definitely worth to list out some of them: 5 direction obstacle sensing, intelligent flight modes, draw (represents DJI’s brand new waypoints technology), ActiveTrack, TapFly, automatic home return and various gesture modes for easier flight experience.
The aforementioned five-directional position sensing technology sports 4-directional obstacle avoidance that’s based on stereo vision and infrared sensing system. That sophisticated exchange of data is called FlightAutonomy and is one of the most advanced types of mainstream obstacle avoidance currently available on the market. All things considered; I believe it is pretty easy to realize Phantom 4 Pro has everything it needs to keep the best consumer-grade drone throne all to itself!
2. Autel Robotics EVO
If you’re looking for a simple-to-use drone that carries a bunch of professional-grade features and state of the art hardware, then you don’t need to look further than Autel Robotics EVO. With impressive stats, sturdy frame, and top-tier photography solution, only a few readily available can beat the EVO, and they usually come at much higher price tags…
Not only is Autel Robotics EVO incredibly fast (which isn’t surprising considering its size and powerful hardware), but it’s also fairly easy to use as well. It doesn’t require any special drone operating experience, although it does come in handy, especially with more complex tasks that require precise aerial maneuvers.
As far as the features go, EVO has everything you’d expect from such a pricey drone. Positioning system, object tracking, autonomous flight modes, 3D mapping, and several reliable layers of failsafe. Furthermore, this foldable orange bugger comes with a dedicated remote controller housing a 3.3-inch OLED screen that can show you the FPV view without even connecting your smartphone. As for the stats, you’re looking at roughly 7 kilometers of flight range and 30ish minutes of flight time.
Ability to Perceive 3D
On top of everything portrayed above, we need to mention EVO’s ability to perceive in 3D. You see, Autel Robotics EVO’s obstacle detection systems utilize two frontal cameras that provide data for real-time 3D environment creation supported by complex obstacle avoidance algorithms.
Last but not least, Autel Robotics EVO does a fantastic job in terms of aerial photography. It captures 4K footage at 60FPS and 12MP still images thanks to its 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and Ambarella H2 image processor. All in all, you have to admit Autel Robotics EVO is pretty sweet deal, surely among the best collision avoidance drones currently available on the market!
1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro
DJI Mavic 2 models are arguably the best obstacle avoidance drones readily available on sites such as Amazon! Today, we’re going to concentrate on the Pro version which can be the ideal aerial platform for both consumers and prosumers. This foldable bugger brings forth impressive, unparalleled performance, but bears a price tag that’s difficult to justify for hobbyists.
There’s no such thing as better than DJI Mavic 2 Pro! Remember that! This drone is an absolute beast across all imaginable departments. Speed – check! Flight precision – check! Professional-grade camera quality – check! Plenty of autonomous flight modes – check! Omnidirectional obstacle avoidance system – check! More on that one down below.
For now, we should mention that DJI Mavic 2 Pro packs a Hasselblad camera that shoots impressive 4K at 60fps footage with buttery stabilization and outright Hollywood-like footage quality. It’s really as good as it gets! On top of that, you can expect unparalleled performance in terms of the key numbers. We’re talking up to 8 kilometers of operating range and darn close to half an hour of active flying. Yep, there really is no other readily available drone that’s as powerful as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro!
DJI Mavic 2 Collision Detection System 101
Both Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom have an identical collision detection system based on vision and infrared sensors. If packs downward, forward, backward and lateral vision sensors as well as upward and downward infrared sensors. All combined and coupled with additional technology, these sensors provide smooth altitude hold function and omnidirectional obstacle detection in adequate weather conditions (with sufficient lighting). Depending on your flight mode, the obstacle avoidance system will either make your Mavic 2 brake or slowly avoid obstacles (if possible).
What Is Obstacle Avoidance?
The basis of obstacle avoidance (AKA collision avoidance) systems is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a combination of hardware and software gimmicks that, combined, make up for a comprehensive system that will keep the drone away from any potential mid-air threats.
This includes any type of obstacle it might encounter. Instead of crashing straight into it, a drone equipped with obstacle avoidance system will overthrow user’s input and take full control of the drone, effectively evading the threat. While this sounds really interesting (and awesome) in theory, the question is – how good is it in real flying tests? Well, this all comes down to the collision avoidance technology a particular drone uses.
That’s why I’m going to tell you more about the most common ones down below! So, let’s cut with the nonsense here and jump straight to the discussion about modern-day obstacle avoidance systems used in small UAVs.
What are main Types of Collision Avoidance Systems on Drones?
Now that you know what obstacle avoidance systems represent, it’s time to focus on the technology behind them. Needless to say, drone tech and innovations in the industry are moving forward at a rapid pace. A few years ago, this sort of tech was only available in the military. Nowadays, we’re seeing more expensive and increasingly more sophisticated systems coming up in the casual/commercial world.
Since we’re only talking about collision avoidance drones here, it’s only logical to take a closer look at the type of collision avoidance systems on modern-day drones. There’s a handful of them so go grab yourself a cup of coffee, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!
Ultrasonic Sensors (SONAR)
Let’s start off with ultrasonic sensors, also known as SONAR. These sensors are typically found on the bottom of modern-drones, installed for detecting ground and terrain. They basically ensure the accuracy of altitude hold and follow terrain/me features. Long story short, SONAR sensors offer astonishing non-contact range (from one inch to thirteen feet) and provide with stable data reads and great accuracy.
Infrared Obstacle Detection Sensors
Next up, we have infrared sensors! Contrary to popular belief, IR sensors are widely used in obstacle avoidance technology. They work in a simple fashion, reflecting infrared beams to detect nearby objects/obstacles.
LIDAR sensors are often used within sophisticated obstacle avoidance systems. They calculate the distance to an object in a simple way – by measuring the time it takes for laser pulses to travel back and forth between the sensor and the closest object. Newer, premium LIDAR sensors offer advanced features such as accurate multi-target detection at insanely long ranges.
Here’s a closer look at the LIDAR obstacle avoidance systems used for unmanned aircraft.
Monocular Vision Sensors
Many people haven’t heard about monocular vision sensors. Nothing surprising as they’re not a household thing used across a variety of everyday items (like infrared). Monocular vision sensors capture imagery through a single lens camera and then reconstruct 3D depth thanks to their ability to perceive 3D depth and judge distances.
Stereo Vision Collision Avoidance Sensors
In many ways, stereo vision is similar to stereoscopic 3D vision. It calculates the depth data by coupling two 2D images together, captured from two differently positioned cameras. The complex process calculates the data by using pixel identification and complex triangulation based on camera rays. DJI drones are the most popular models using stereo vision. More precisely, the China-based drone manufacturer uses stereo vision coupled with the aforementioned ultrasonic sensors which apparently gives the best results.
Obstacle sensing algorithms aren’t brand-new tech. They are, however, just starting to get their share of the consumer drone market, through a chosen set of drones featuring all of their virtues. We’re basically talking about a comprehensive set of instructions based on various formulas and data coming from the sensors in real-time. Numerous obstacle avoidance systems feature AI-driven algorithms that do all the hard work (read numerous calculations) to relieve the stress off the flight controller.
What are the Key Benefits of Obstacle Avoidance Drones?
The advantages of these drones are outright numerous! However, most of them don’t justify the insanely high price tags of drones possessing such high-end technology. In other words, obstacle avoidance drones are still primarily used in commercial scenarios… because of the price tag.
However, as time goes on and the technology continues to leap forward, I’m sure we’ll see significant price drops. Till then, here are the key benefits of drones with obstacle avoidance you can count on no matter if you’re buying your next drone for commercial or casual purposes:
Bringing Forth Peace of Mind
This one goes without saying – collision avoidance drones bring forth a piece of mind, which is an invaluable factor considering the complexity and price tags of the top of the line models. Thanks to comprehensive collision avoidance systems, these high-end drones can effectively prevent crashes on their own. Crashes which would, undoubtedly, result in massive expenditures because, let’s face it, every crash with such an expensive model prompts an equally expensive repair.
But, professional drones are typically operated by experienced drone pilots – they know better than to crash drones every now and then… Yes, that’s true, but there are other, external factors that can result in a crash even with the most experienced drone pilot onboard. I’m referring to signal losses, FPV transmission issues, lag, and similar scenarios that can happen during prolonged use at long range. One cannot affect such external scenarios, which is why most commercial uses require obstacle avoidance drones – to minimize potential crashes… while at the same time minimizing insurance costs. More on that later on.
Improve Indoor Flying
Flying outdoor is a task that’s been conquered a long time ago. Thanks to GPS and GLONASS navigation system coupled with flow positioning sensors, even some of the cheapest drones out there are able to keep their pace outdoors.
Indoor flying scenarios, however, require a completely different strategy. Flying indoors takes much more than GPS and GLONASS. Satellite positioning systems are nowhere nearly precise enough for indoor drone flights. This is a job for a number of different systems based on various sensors and data gathered by different types of imagery.
Flying indoors means drones have to know their exact position in their surrounding area at all times, which is a much more delicate and complex process than what’s the case with typical outdoor flying. Needless to say, obstacle avoidance sensors greatly help with precise indoor flying scenarios. Whether we’re talking about warehouses, factories, or other types of facilities, obstacle avoidance tech is of great service. Not only does it feed the drone’s flight controller with invaluable information regarding its positioning, but it also allows it to timely avoid obstacles and prevent potential crashes.
Futureproofing Autonomous Drone Delivery Systems
Let’s face it – autonomous drone delivery systems are not science fiction anymore. Thanks to the rapid development of drone technology, they are becoming a reality. Well, technically, most autonomous drone delivery systems are still in testing phases because, after all, we’re talking about incredibly complex and comprehensive processes. However, it’s only a matter of time (a year or two, realistically speaking), before we see them conquer our skies.
A big thanks in all of this goes down to obstacle avoidance sensors. In essence, they are futureproofing drones of today, making them outstanding basis for drone fleets that are going to be used in autonomous drone delivery systems. It’s crazy to think of it today, but it’s going to be a completely normal, day-to-day scenario a couple of years from now. Mark my words!
Bringing Insurance Costs Down
Last but not least – having a fleet of drones with collision avoidance can significantly lower your insurance costs. Yes, if you haven’t heard of it by now – commercial drones have insurance. It’s a necessary evil that’s mandatory in many countries across the world.
Let’s crunch some numbers, shall we!? A high-end commercial drone carrying professional-grade photography equipment can easily cost above $20,000, and that’s not including the operating costs such as the pilot or insurance costs. Luckily, plenty of commercial setups these days feature comprehensive obstacle avoidance systems which greatly reduce insurance. The cost is still there, but we’re talking about a much lower number, especially looking at the long-term scheme of things.