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DJI’s new obstacle avoidance tech aims to make drones crash proof

It may not be as glamorous as building vehicles that go faster, fly higher, or shoot more beautiful images, but making drones less likely to crash into walls and people’s faces is pretty critical to advancing the technology as a whole. Thankfully, DJI is on the case.

Earlier today, the company unveiled a new drone — but arguably more interesting was the new Guidance system unveiled quietly alongside it. Guidance is essentially a multimodal sensing system that gives the company’s newly unveiled Matrice 100 drone (more on that in a moment) autonomous obstacle avoidance capabilities.

The system consists of an array of five ultrasonic rangefinders (aiming left, right, forward, backward, and down), a set of integrated visual cameras running some of “the most advanced computer vision algorithms in the world,” and an onboard CPU to process all the data.

guidance moduleRelated: DJI’s new Phantom 3 drone gets 4K cam, live HD streaming, ‘follow me’ autopilot

Using these two types of sensor in concert, Guidance gives drones the ability to hover in place and maintain its position without GPS. Even when flying at high speeds, DJI’s high-precision stereo algorithms provide positioning info over practically any type of terrain, allowing the drone to achieve hovering that’s accurate to within centimeters, and scan its immediate environment to detect/avoid obstacles in real time, without any input from the pilot.

In the future, these kinds of systems could be built directly into consumer drones, making it much more difficult to send your DJI Phantom 3 careening into the trunk of a tree, or fly your Inspire 1 a little bit too close to Enrique Iglesias.

For now, however, the technology only exists as an attachment for DJI’s newly-announced Matrice 100 drone. Unlike the company’s more consumer-focused Phantom or Inspire series drones, Matrice is designed with developers in mind. It’s modular, customizable, and built with a dizzying array of ports, expansion bays, and mounts for adding adding stuff onto the drone. The idea is that this will make it easier for people to experiment with different configurations, and outfit the drone with whatever sensors they need for a particular job.