The DJI Matrice 100 is a quadcopter for developers. The drone allows developers to customize the flight platform using the DJI SDK. Time to take the first flight to begin testing! Looky here:
In preparation for flying the Matrice 100, I spent about 20 hours learning how to fly drones by practicing with “toy” quadcopters. I bought a couple, the one I spent the most time working with was the SYMA X5C Quadcopter (Remember to get extra batteries, I used these). For the most part, learning to fly the quadcopters was a typical experience. At first, everything doesn’t make much sense and there are the inevitable crashes and such. After a few hours, it kinda sorta makes sense, and then after about 15 hours or so you can impress the dogs at the park with your mad skillz.
I will note here that there appears to be a mode on the SYMA designed to fly the quad into a tree. If you happen to have the propeller guards on, there is a good chance that it will get stuck in the tree. Don’t ask me how I know that. Stinkin’ tree monsters. If you fly outside, don’t put the prop guards on. When the SYMA is in ‘Mode 2’ on the controller, I never had any problems as long as I stayed within range of the transmitter. Once the SYMA gets out of range of the transmitter, it falls out of the sky in most cases.
In comparison to flying the toy quadcopters, flying the Matrice is quite a different experience. First, the toys are affected by any type of wind making them much more difficult to control. The Matrice, being much heavier, doesn’t suffer from that issue as badly. The day that we shot the video, it was too windy to fly the toy whereas the Matrice didn’t seem to mind all that much.
Second, the Matrice is much more serious. I have to admit it’s a little intimidating, but that helps in maintaining a healthy respect for it. With the Matrice, there is a preflight check list, which includes things like calibrating the compass, making sure that the battery is well seated in its compartment, and so on. As you saw in the video, even though checking that the propeller is securely fastened is on the checklist, it is really important to be absolutely sure as you prepare to fly. On the toy, of course, you basically turn it on and off you go.
Another big difference between the Matrice and the toy quadcopter is the way the aircraft hovers. On the Matrice, setting the throttle causes the aircraft to hover at a constant altitude. The Matrice uses onboard sensors to maintain that altitude, so the pilot doesn’t have to be quite as attentive to throttle application. On the toy, this does not happen automatically. Hover is maintained by judiciously juggling the sticks to control the throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll. So in that sense, the Matrice is easier to fly along with all of its other “big boy” features like Return To Home (RTH) which allows the Matrice to return and land at a preset home location autonomously.
Of course, there’s also a post flight check on the Matrice which the toy doesn’t need where all of the different accessories are dismounted and packed off. In addition, when piloting an aircraft like the Matrice a log should be kept which needs to be filled out.
Also, landing the aircraft as seen in the video is a little different. On one of the toy quadcopters, you can just set the throttle to off and your done. On the Matrice, you saw in the video that I tried to ‘disarm’ it right after it landed, and in that act almost did one of the dreaded flips. Pilot error. So the after landing sequence is different.
There’s not too much to say about the actual flying itself. For my first flights on the Matrice, I will not work much with the onboard camera as I try to become acclimated to piloting the aircraft. Some of my more serious friends who fly these types of devices for Hollywood films actually fly them as a tandem. One person is the pilot of the aircraft, the second person acts as a cameraman using a second remote control. The pilot is responsible for getting the aircraft to the desired place, the camera man is responsible for getting the shot.
I will say that one thing that surprised me was the quality of the video footage shot by the Matrice Zenmuse X3 camera. As it was a pretty windy day, and the platform moved around quite a bit while it was up in the area, the gimbal system and shock absorbers made the shots look very smooth. The crane types of shots were very surprising in their quality.
In any case, it’s a good feeling to know that the thing can actually fly. This makes it easier to imagine it autonomously flying some day.
Special thanks to Matthew Graham for filming the Matrice while I piloted the vehicle.