When a motor manufacturer shows off its latest concept car at a show we usually understand that they're testing the water and trying out a few revolutionary concepts on the public before releasing a toned down version of the design a year or two down the line.
So what do we make of the DJI Phantom X? The "concept" was unveiled in a glossy video and so far it's generated excitement and scepticism in equal measure.
Sci-Fi visions of the future
DJI say: "We all loved the 1980s’ sci-fi visions of the future — the way drones zipped around, blending in as a natural part of everyday life. What if we told you the predictions made in these sci-fi classics are now reality?"
A 4 drone action shoot with the Phantom X
So in the video DJI are offering multi-angle shooting by using multiple drones tracking a watch or tablet. They're also predicting artificial intelligence and collision avoidance. In the video you see four Phantom Xs following a cyclist and managing to avoid trees, long grass and lampposts. DJI are obviously getting close with their Guidance system but the fluid detect-and-avoid electronics shown on the video would be in another league - if they were real. Now I'm sure they will be real at some stage in the future but maybe not in time for Christmas.
You can also ask a friend if they mind being followed by your Phantom X. Sounds a bit creepy to me. There's already a follow me feature on the Phantom 3 series but this one would presumably allow you to track a friend's movements provided they had their own compatible watch or tablet. Handy I suppose if you were, for example, filming them doing some form of sport.
The one thing missing from this future-gazing video is any form of controller. The Phantom X is just thrown up into the air and then off it goes. The only tablet in the video is one that's used to view the four camera angles - one from each of the drones.
It reminded me of the much talked about Lily, due for release next year. That too can be casually tossed in the air and follows the owner whatever they're doing. But the Lily doesn't appear to have any collision avoidance capability and, like the Phantom X, has no controller other than a watch. The Lily and the Phantom X both get seriously close to things too so I wonder what the UK CAA will have to say about that. Clever technology that flouts the current regulations.
There's one other feature that is showcased in the video - Sky Paint. Actress Chloe Bennet (Skye in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", so they tell me) manages to conjure up her own private Red Arrows style display with two Phantom Xs just by waving her arms around in front of her - impressive, perhaps pointless and probably not possible ... at the moment. To paraphrase DJI : "The creators of today have always been the dreamers of yesterday.
"In the spirit of creativity, we got together with a few friends to form a glimpse of of the future; of ideas and concepts to come."
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