First introduced in the spring of 2020, the DJI Mavic Air 2 drone occupies a very successful niche between the Mavic 2 series quadcopters and the compact Mavic Mini. Video bloggers and travelers were waiting for more release – the new model was largely created according to their requirements. DJI engineers lifted the veil of secrecy and talked about the work of the design and advanced development department. Together with them, we will go through the path of Mavic Air 2: from a 3D model, through prototypes and mock-ups, to a finished commercial product.
At the first stage of design, it is important to form a concept and not lose sight of a lot of little things, because it is at this stage that the path is laid for the entire development team. For example, special attention has been paid to weight control and energy consumption. In the process of sequential design of each structural element, the task was to obtain the optimal combination of flight time and maneuverability of the aircraft.
In the process of reviewing previous experience, the engineers evaluated the beam design of the first generation Mavic Air drone and found great room for improvement. The fact is that the original scheme did not leave room for a noticeable increase in operating time and weight return. The changes affected all the main aspects: dimensions, shape and kinematics of beam folding.
The result of the research was the abandonment of the appearance of the original Mavic Air and the transition to a design similar to the Mavic Pro.
The next step was the creation of prototypes and the solution of issues of vibration and design flexibility. The use of powerful computer-aided design tools made it possible to calculate the stiffness of each structural element, after which a large amount of full-scale experiments and improvements were carried out in order to confirm the calculations and check how stable and controllable the quadcopter would be for high-quality aerial photography.
Hardware and software testing
Creating a gyro-stabilized gimbal has become one of the main challenges for the development team. Of course, the experience of DJI specialists in the design and installation of cameras is great, but when it comes to installing equipment on a new aircraft, it is always a difficult task with many unknowns.
The gimbal uses a high power consumption camera sensor. Improving the quality of shooting and not retreating from the idea of maximizing flight time is a problem that designers and electronic equipment engineers had to work hard to solve.
Capturing HD photos and HDR video is only half the battle. It is important that the resulting image quality is not affected by the phenomenon of thermal noise. The next task was to effectively cool the camera and gimbal.
When designing the main circuit board of the drone, modern System-in-Package (SiP) chip packaging technology was used, due to which an optimal balance of performance, volume and weight occupied inside the body was achieved.
After building the first prototype, a wide variety of potential users were assembled for testing, from project managers and experienced drone operators to newcomers to the world of aerial photography. The feedback received from them played a major role in the final refinement of the control panel, interface, control and shooting algorithms.
To make sure the Mavic 2 can operate successfully in extreme conditions, a series of additional tests were carried out. In particular, flights were carried out on an indoor skating rink in order to check the performance of the drone at low temperatures without waiting for winter.
Challenges and Solutions
It is not enough to achieve high quality shooting – a product like Mavic Air 2 should be easy to learn and accessible to every user. The DJI Fly app for mobile devices has a user-friendly interface and allows you to automate the shooting process. For example, the amazing hyperlapse shown below was obtained with a single tap on the smartphone screen.
Many solutions from the world of modern gadgets have been implemented, such as Quad Bayer pixel binarization technology for shooting in low light. Developers had to face a lot of hardware and software limitations and go through all the “bottlenecks” in order to get the maximum result with the minimum cost for the end user. As a result, the Mavic Air 2 that went on sale is the result of a long and painstaking selection process.
It took more than a year of research in constant dialogue with photographers to fine-tune the new DJI SmartPhoto intelligent shooting algorithm.
A sophisticated algorithm analyzes the surrounding landscape, illumination, gimbal position, angle of inclination to the horizon and many other parameters and automatically selects the camera settings that are optimal for the current conditions. Perhaps this innovation is most noticeable to the naked eye and is especially important for simplifying the creative process.
All of DJI’s object tracking expertise has been analyzed to make the FocusTrack feature set more intuitive while making full use of the power of artificial intelligence.
The development team applied the most advanced machine learning technologies to recognize both various moving objects (people, cars, boats, etc.), as well as stationary structures, natural objects and landscape details. 3D mapping and trajectory planning software algorithms have also been added for smoother pursuit.
As we already mentioned, at the first stage of the design, the maximum possible flight time was calculated, after which engineers from different directions worked in close cooperation and analyzed the impact on the power consumption of each module and structural element of the drone.
Mavic Air 2 is equipped with a variety of sensors, including gyroscopes, accelerometers, a GPS receiver, a compass, and optical sensors for avoiding obstacles. All information from the peripherals is collected and analyzed by the central processor of the flight controller for adjustments in the manual and automatic control algorithms. A lot of calculations to improve safety and simplify piloting occur without the operator noticing.
Mavic Air 2 is the fruit of two years of collaboration between designers, software developers, and beta testers. The icing on the cake was the slogan “Up Your Game” in the English version, which DJI marketers very accurately marked the transition to a new level in the creation of mass and affordable drones. Perhaps the result of the work of the team of the famous company will be appreciated by you too!
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