Fly like a bird once

Dhe ducks appear a little suddenly. They are still swimming calmly across the lake, but we are approaching them from the air at high speed. It’s too late to dodge. We quickly pull the drone up in the hope that the animals will stay in the water well. Luckily they do. Next time we’ll be more careful.

A first-person-view drone, FPV for short, is used. Its special feature is that the pilot wears data glasses when flying. He sees nothing of his surroundings. The two screens in the glasses reproduce the image generated by the optics in the drone. It is transmitted wirelessly and in real time from the aircraft to the glasses. In this way, you perceive the drone flight as if you were flying yourself.

Until now, FPV drones have been a topic for athletes who build their own aircraft. A year ago, Chinese manufacturer DJI launched a ready-to-launch FPV drone, and now a stripped-down version is launching. The DJI Avata costs 580 euros, and you have to invest in additional accessories. The glasses, called Goggles 2, cost 570 euros. A remote control is also required. The motion controller we use for 150 euros, which reacts to hand movements, comes into question. Alternatively, a conventional remote control can be coupled with two joysticks. It looks like it belongs to a Playstation or Xbox. It also costs 150 euros.

Drone license required

This drone can be flown without smartphone support. However, you first have to teach all three system components – drone, goggles and controller – via Bluetooth, which is quite complicated. The Avata’s takeoff weight is 410 grams. This means that the pilot needs a drone pilot’s license. The relatively small propellers are surrounded by a plastic protection so that as little damage as possible occurs in the event of a collision. The battery is attached above the four propellers. It sits in a plastic case with a power connector. After the automatic start, the drone hovers stably at a height of one and a half meters. Since the pilot only sees the drone image, a spotter must be present, i.e. someone who looks out for dangers to the pilot and drone.

During the first flight, the controls take some getting used to. Flying with the joystick and hand movements only becomes intuitive after a certain amount of practice. What the data glasses show is fascinating. Very carefully we fly the first maneuvers at low speed. With more experience, the pace increases. You are drawn deeper and deeper into what is happening and finally believe you are flying. With two adjustment wheels on the goggles, visual impairments can be corrected up to minus eight or plus two dioptres. The drone flies for approximately 18 minutes on one battery charge. The remaining time as well as the flight altitude and other data are shown on the display. Even if DJI states a range of more than eleven kilometers, we received a warning after around 200 meters.


Take off for professionals: DJI’s Avata and its essential accessories
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Image: manufacturer

There are three different modes with different flight speeds, the fastest is almost 100 km/h. Advanced flight skills are required for this. According to DJI, the optical sensor of the camera unit has a resolution of 48 megapixels. However, photos can be taken with 4000 × 3000 pixels. Videos succeed in 4K with up to 60 frames per second or in low resolution with up to 120 frames per second. The data ends up on micro SD memory cards. The drone also has a built-in memory of 20 gigabytes.

Whether at the duck pond or over the dunes of the Sahara: Flying with data glasses and a joystick is certainly not for everyone. If you only want to take photos and film, you can get there faster with a conventional remote control. An FPV drone, on the other hand, is more of an electronic sports device that requires practice and experience.

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