Introduction – Are You Following Me?
Picture the scene: you’re just about to reach the top of the mountain. The golden hour lighting is absolutely sublime. As you reach the peak, you’ve got the framing just right to capture the dramatic sunset. But suddenly you realize you can’t actually get the epic shot of yourself that you envisioned because you’re too busy controlling the drone.
To overcome this, drone manufacturers have developed automatic features that take out a lot of the guesswork and are making aerial photography more and more intuitive. Drones that follow you let you make the most of your adventure without the worry of you or your beloved drone crashing because you’re splitting your focus between the drone and yourself. Let’s look at how DJI’s industry leading FocusTrack technology helps make drones with subject tracking actually work, what the difference is between available drone models, and which ones might be right for you.
How Do Follow Me Drones Work?
Drones that follow you may make you wonder how they can follow you during your activities. Follow me drones typically use a combination of GPS, computer vision, and obstacle avoidance technology to track and follow a subject. So let’s look at how drone manufacturers equip their drones to follow you when you need them to automatically.
DJI has made it’s built FocusTrack into their drone’s camera view by default so that when you open the camera view all you have to do is select your subject, then select from the FocusTrack modes Spotlight, ActiveTrack, and Point of Interest to activate these modes unique follow-me capabilities.
Follow me while moving With DJI’s ActiveTrack
The ActiveTrack feature was first introduced with the Phantom 4 series and represented the evolution of the Follow Me mode found on previous drones. DJI’s ActiveTrack vastly improved accuracy and user experience. It allowed the user to mark and track multiple moving objects on the controlling device’s screen without the need of an external tracking device. DJI has continuously developed and improved it’s ActiveTrack and now many of the drones DJI makes that can follow you have ActiveTrack 5.0.
Both GPS and vision recognition are utilized in the ActiveTrack feature to locate the drone itself, stabilize its flight, and navigate between obstacles. It has been such a success that it is available on almost all new drones released by DJI. The DJI FLY app has been specifically designed to help all of the drones maximize the ActiveTrack user experience.
You may be wondering how easy it is to use ActiveTrack on a DJI drone. Read our step-by-step break down of how ActiveTrack works and how easy it is to use when you fly.
What are Follow Me Drones Good For?
Drones with a follow-me mode can automatically track a target. The follow-me mode means the drone can fly while keeping a preselected target in focus without being piloted. For activities that require your utmost attention and focus, like running, driving, biking, snowboarding, etc., the drone pilot cannot fly the drone manually and do the activity safely. In these and many other situations, it’s paramount to have a drone with a follow-me mode so that you can capture the footage you need worry-free.
Tech Behind Follow Me Drones
Drone companies use two leading technologies for the follow-me feature, most commonly found in quadcopter drones. They work in different ways to allow drones to track objects automatically and accurately.
1) GPS Tech
The earliest follow-me drones were programmed to follow a GPS transmitter or Ground Station Controller (GSC) that users had to wear. The GSC and the software created a virtual tether between the user and the drone. Usually, the remote controller contains the GPS transmitter, which is required for the drone to follow you.
DJI first introduced follow me drones in 2015 with the Phantom 3 series. Its vast array of Intelligent Flight Modes includes Follow Me, Course Lock, Waypoints, Home Lock, and Points of Interest. As with other GPS-based drones, the Phantom 3 requires a remote controller and the DJI GO app to enable Follow Me mode.
So why use GPS tech? The tracking accuracy of GPS tech is unrivaled, providing much better precision than other techs. However, the system only works when a tracker/transmitter is present, and obstacle avoidance is not a feature.
2) Vision Recognition Tech
Detecting objects, people, and obstacles through data captured by a camera have been used in robotics since the early 2000s. In recent years as hardware and software advances this new technology has seen more use due to its high requirements for computing, battery life, and safety.
In general, vision recognition technology works as follows:
- The drone cameras and sensors collect image and sound data, then transmit it to the processor.
- With sufficient data, the processor identifies the background parts of the scene and locates any moving objects.
- As programmed, the aircraft starts to follow the moving object automatically.
Thanks to recent technological advances, the drone completes this three-step process within seconds on the latest models. Besides speedy response time, vision recognition also has the advantage of tracking all moving objects, including cars, bikes, people, and animals.
It does not require an external GPS tracker; instead, it uses a compatible software/app on the controlling device. Recognition accuracy, however, can be affected by lighting conditions and the contrast between areas in direct light and those in shadow.
To overcome the limitations of GPS and vision recognition systems, DJI combined the two technologies into the ActiveTrack system, realizing the best of both approaches.
3 Best Follow Me Drones (With Video Tests)
Let’s look at the best ActiveTrack camera drones that have excellent follow-me capabilities, how their features differ, and which is best for specific scenarios and how ActiveTrack makes capturing the best shot simple.
1) The Mavic 3 Pro
- Hasselblad camera captures 12-bit RAW photos with a dynamic range of up to 12.8 stops
- Easy focal length switching for distinct composition styles
- Medium tele camera highlights subjects and creates a strong visual center of gravity
- Upgraded tele camera shoots 4K/60fps video with 7x optical zoom and 12MP photos, with hybrid zoom up to 28x
- Hasselblad camera and 70mm medium tele camera support ActiveTrack 5.0, Spotlight, and Point of Interest, for stable tracking shots in multiple directions
2) The Air 2S
With its advanced features and intuitive controls, Air 2S offers unparalleled capabilities to follow your every move using ActiveTrack technology.
- FocusTrack: Spotlight 2.0, ActiveTrack 4.0, and Point of Interest 3.0 for easy subject tracking and circling
- 1-inch sensor: Capture 5K/30fps and 4K/60fps videos with exceptional image quality
- RAW format: Shoot photos in RAW,with a dynamic range of up to 12.6 stops
- MasterShots: Tap and let Air 2S create impressive cinematic videos with ten automated maneuvers
- Intelligent filming: Air 2S keeps your subject center-frame with precise maneuvers, generating captivating cinematic videos
3) Mini 3 Pro
The Mini 3 Pro is an ideal follow-me drone for beginner photographers and videographers looking to capture footage from unique perspectives. It offers advanced features that make it easy to track moving subjects, such as obstacle detection and avoidance sensors and ActiveTrack technology.
- Compact and lightweight design that makes it easy to transport and maneuver in tight spaces
- Up to 40 minutes of flight time on a single charge, thanks to its highly efficient battery
- 4K/60fps camera that captures high-quality photos and videos with improved color accuracy and contrast
- Maximum flight range of 10 kilometers, providing ample opportunity to capture footage from a variety of vantage points
- Three-axis gimbal stabilization system for smooth and stable camera movement
Taking Selfies With Follow Me Drones
Using a drone to take selfies can provide unique and creative angles that cannot be achieved with a traditional selfie stick. For instance, a drone can capture a wide shot of a scenic landscape, or a bird’s-eye view of a crowded event, providing a more visually engaging image. In addition, drones can follow and film the subject as they move, creating dynamic and engaging footage.
Drones can also reach places difficult or dangerous for people to access carrying heavy, cumbersome equipment, such as high rooftops or bodies of water. Using a drone to take selfies provides a new way to capture memorable moments with friends and family. Taking the best drone selfie takes time and practice so be sure to learn as much as you can before you need to capture that perfect shot!
Follow Me Drone Flight Safety Tips
Although obstacle avoidance features are a great tool in flight safety, it is always advisable to keep the following flight safety tips in mind when flying a follow me drone:
- Flight altitude: In follow me modes, a certain minimum flight height may be required in specific drone models. We recommend setting the drone’s flight altitude to be higher than surrounding obstacles.
- Fly in an open space: Although the drones can avoid numerous obstacles, it’s best to fly in an open space and make sure that there are no obstacles in your planned flight path whenever possible.
- Be sure to fly in P-mode: DJI’s ActiveTrack feature requires both the GPS signal strength and the vision recognition system, which is only available when flying in P-mode. When you switch the flight to S-mode, the aircraft only uses GPS to locate itself. The forward and backward vision systems (when equipped) are disabled, the aircraft is not able to sense or avoid obstacles, and Intelligent Flight modes are unavailable. The aircraft automatically changes to Attitude mode (ATTI mode) when the vision systems are unavailable or disabled and when the GPS signal is weak or the compass is experiencing interference. In this case, the aircraft is not able to avoid obstacles and is a potential flight hazard.
- Battery status: Remember to keep an eye on battery levels and warnings. Do not try to use the follow me modes on low battery. We suggest flying in ActiveTrack mode with at least 30% battery power remaining.
Learn more about Drone Flight Safety Tips.
The application of vision recognition technology represents a significant step in the UAV industry towards the realization of intelligent and automated features, and has enhanced flight experience and safety. However, since the follow me feature is still dependent on environmental conditions, it is important to adhere to the usual flight safety points. For a truly unique and intuitive flying experience, give a drone that follows you a go.