By Erick Royer
Last night was pretty epic for my good friend, and fellow contributor, Petr Hejl as it was the maiden autonomous flight of his new Tarot T960 Hexcopter. Petr’s Tarot features the new DJI A2 controller, FPV for the pilot, a DJI IOSD and he has a DJI Zenmuse Z15 gimbal that he will be using for a professional camera rig with a Panasonic GH3 camera. As if all that was not cool enough, his latest edition was the DJI Ground Station which was test flown for the first time last night.
This is my first time seeing the Ground Station in action and it was nothing short of amazing. From his iPad Mini the Ground Station’s software displays a satellite map via Google Earth. It can be zoomed in far enough to see the cars in the parking lot. In normal flight you can see the path and location of the hex on the screen in real time, but the real cool-factor comes in when you use the waypoints feature. This is done by simply touching specific spots on the map to drop a ‘point’. You can assign up to 50 per flight. At each point you can set a specific altitude, heading and time to remain at that point. You can set the software to loop the program so it will keep flying the same pattern over and over or you can simply have it remain stationary at the end of the flight over its starting location. Once programmed, all you need to do is press “GO” and the hex will power up and immediately take off to the first waypoint in the sequence. When the machine makes it to the last point you can simply press “LAND” and it will land in the same spot that it took off at.
Since Petr has a lot of hours and money into this machine, he remained with his fingers at the ready to take over the control of the Tarot should something no go as planned. To all of our amazement, the entire flight was performed without ever touching the controller. A simple press of a button on the iPad to GO and then LAND and that was all the interaction that he needed for the flight.
Waypoint programming is not new to DJI or to multirotors. There are other controllers on the market that offer this feature. In fact, DJI offers a very expensive ACE controller system that has this feature built in, but that will set you back upwards of $10,000. What makes the Ground Station such a cool product is the fact that it is easy to operate, if offers a lot of functionality and it only costs around $220.00. It will only work with other DJI controllers (Naza-V2, Wookong, etc). You can also use it, with some modifications, on your Phantom 2.
After watching several flights, each performed flawlessly, Petr and I were talking about some practical applications that you can use this system for. One example is that once the Zenmuse and GH3 are attached, he can operate the camera while the copter flies itself from place to place. Additionally you could fly a program during each season and obtain the same video footage each flight. This is great for us in the north so you could make a video that fades from season to season and with some creative video editing, will look like one continuous flight.
There is no doubt that the Ground Station from DJI will change the industry and open up a whole new world of possibilities.