DJI announced yesterday that the soon to be released Phantom 4 will feature an obstacle avoidance system enabling the drone to avoid running into obstacles by hovering or going over or around the obstacle, as well as a object tracking system enabling the drone to follow an object of interest without needing any beacons or receivers.
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According to the FAQs on DJI website, the effective range of the Obstacle Sensing System is 0.7 to 15 meters.
It remains to be seen how well the system works, but this is definitely a major advancement in sUAV technology and a big step forward in making sUAVs safer and more useful. If these sense and avoid technologies prove to be safe and effective and if all major drone makers develop some version and make it available on their drones to customers at a low price, the FAA could be convinced to loosen restrictions on flying in crowded spaces and over people, which could pave the way for other major use cases such as delivery by drones. Exciting times ahead!