Inspire 2 – What Can We Expect?

The DJI Inspire 1 has become the workhorse UAV for many commercial applications since its release in November 2014.

Pioneer

When it was first announced in 2014, the Inspire 1 was in many ways a revolution for DJI – and the drone industry as a whole.

inspire-1
Inspire 1

It was the first of DJI’s products to incorporate the company’s LightBridge video downlink technology directly into the drone architecture. Previously, LightBridge had been available as as an add-on system for DJI’s larger drones.

And the Inspire 1 was the first drone to utilise a tablet/phone/smart device as a key part of the operational interface between user and drone.

By moving the video feed, and much of the aircraft’s telemetry, data and payload controls into an app-based system – using the now-ubiquitous DJI GO app – DJI revolutionised ease of use, speed of deployment, and massively improved the overall control and monitoring capabilities over previous drones. Today, pretty much all of DJI’s product line uses an app-based interface of some kind.

The Inspire remains DJI’s only aircraft with an interchangeable camera/payload system. The original X3 camera that came with the first Inspire has been joined by the X5 and X5R, the XT thermal camera, and most recently, the Z3 camera: an update of the X3 with 3.5X optical zoom.

The Inspire was also the first to see the introduction of intelligent batteries – batteries with their own built-in ‘brain’ and power management system – again, working in conjuction with data provided inside the DJI GO app.

API

In August 2015, DJI went a step further by releasing an SDK and opening up the camera, gimbal, Wi-Fi transmitter, flight On-Screen Display (OSD), Ground Station and – crucially – the flight control system to third party developers. Other DJI drones followed suit, particularly the Phantom series, and the Matrice series.

This has allowed a flood of developers to come out with specialised flight control apps. Foremost among these are the range of excellent surveying / mapping apps now available for the Inspire, Phantom, and Matrice.

Iterations

inspire-1-pro
Inspire 1 Pro

In 2015, the original Inspire 1 was joined by the Inspire 1 Pro, designed specifically for the X5 and X5R cameras, with more powerful motors and upgraded gimbal, while the original Inspire 1 received an update in November 2015 to the confusingly-titled Inspire 1 v2. This version also had enhanced motors, plus new quick-release props and other gimbal enhancements to bring it more in line with the Inspire 1 Pro.

More recently, DJI introduced the Z3 camera, a variation on the original X3, but now with built in 3.5X optical zoom. I suspect the Z3 will become the default base camera to ship with any new Inspire in the future.

So What’s Next?

Inspire 2?
Inspire 2?

The Inspire line has languished since late 2015. With DJI’s successful launch of the Phantom 4, and more recently, the Mavic pocket drone, the Inspire is certainly due for a refresh – and recent across-the-board Inspire price reductions would indicate that something is up.

It appears an all-new Inspire 2 is on the cards, and could be released any day. Latest rumours predict a release some time around November 8th.

Given the technologies and features we’ve seen incorporated into the Phantom 4, and – more tellingly – into the new Mavic Pro, what can we expect in a new Inspire? Here’s my predictions about what ‘might’ be incorporated into the new Inspire.

I must stress, I have no knowledge or inside information about what we can expect. I have no mole deep inside the halls of DJI’s Shenzhen headquarters sneaking out photos or information. This is just my take on what might be in any new Inspire…. and, yes, its partly a wishlist too!

So here goes:

First The Obvious (or the Seemingly Obvious)

Obstacle-Avoidance

This seems a no-brainer, given that an  obstacle-avoidance system first appeared with the Phantom 4, and more recently on the new Mavic Pro. There’s also Guidance, an all-round system available for the Matrice 100 developer drone.

We need obstacle-avoidance in the Inspire, but what would be really nice would be a variation of Guidance – an all-round object avoidance system that also incorporates the terrain follow mode that we’ve seen included in the Mavic Pro. The H-shaped airframe of the Inspire lends itself to having in-built, all-round sensors for terrain and obstacle sensing in every direction.

FPV Camera

This seems to be high on the wishlist of most Inspire users. Unlike the Phantom range, and the Mavic for that matter, the Inspire’s camera/gimbal has full, independent 360º yaw control, i.e. the camera can pan fully left or right, independent of the direction of the aircraft.

If your camera isn’t pointing front-forward, its easy to lose a sense of the aircraft’s orientation and direction when the Inspire is some distance away. A second FPV (First Person View or Front Pointing View – your choice) camera would enable both (a) a separate pilot video feed when using the Inspire in dual controller mode, and (b) a picture-in-picture video feed in single controller mode, so the pilot can see both the main camera view and the aircraft’s frontal direction view simultaneously.

We could switch views between the main camera and the FPV, in the same way we now tap to switch between map and camera view.

Battery Endurance, Longer Flight Times

Another no-brainer, given that both the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro now deliver around 27-minute flight times. Something at least comparable is much needed for the Inspire – and preferably longer!

Quite how DJI is going to achieve this with the current battery form factor is not clear. Its seems unlikely they will change the form factor and size, given that this battery form is also used on the Matrice 100 and 600.

Could the new Inspire be redesigned to carry two or more batteries, like the Matrice 100 and 600? It’s possible, but seems unlikely – it would add significant weight for one thing.

Could DJI introduce higher capacity batteries, squeezed into the same form factor somehow? Perhaps. I suspect it will be a combination of higher capacity batteries and other design features, such as a lighter airframe, and significantly more power-efficient motors. We’ll have to wait and see, but better endurance and longer flight times seem like a must-have right now.

Better endurance would also mean…

Greater Range

Now that the Mavic Pro can deliver a staggering 7 km range, and still transmit 1080 video using the new OcuSync transmission technology, it would make sense that any new Inspire can at least match that – and then some!

Easier Setup and Deployment

By this I mean a couple of things…

Lets get rid of the troubled quick-release props for a start. Given that DJI seems to have perfected the art of folding props – already available on heavy-lift models like the S900 and the Matrice 600, and on the new fold-away Mavic – its time we had folding props on the Inspire. That’s not too much to ask.

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the pain-in-the-ass travel mode. Let’s just have gear down, and gear up… and when the gear is down – behold – the aircraft fits in its case! Simple! In fact, we will probably see…

Redesigned Landing Gear 

With the Inspire Pro, DJI had to provide riser feet fitted to each leg in order to accommodate the larger X5 cameras. The company will have to rethink the landing gear system if they’re going to make any new Inspire more flexible when it comes to fitting different cameras or different payloads. Its a problem in need of a fix.

All the Other Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro Features! 

Including Active Track, Tripod Mode, Gesture Mode (for selfies – I could live without that!), and any more I might have missed!

Then The Less Obvious

These are a couple of the less obvious technologies that I’d certainly like to see, and some we could well get in the new Inspire, given what we’ve seen in the Phantom 4 and – more significantly – in the Mavic:

Reliability and Redundancy

The long range capabilities in the Mavic Pro – 7 km – clearly put it waaaaay beyond visual line of sight (VLOS), so DJI has built in a couple of new technologies that should find their way into the new Inspire.

One is dual redundancy: the Mavic has dual IMUs and dual compasses that automatically switch if an error is detected in one or the other. The Mavic also employs both GPS and GLONASS for greater in-flight position accuracy. Although not present in the Mavic, dual redundant GPS / GLONASS navigation would be a significant benefit on the Inspire, especially as this is a product targeted at the professional / commercial user.

In addition, terrain follow and object avoidance (both features found in the Mavic) would be essential for any return-to-home from a considerable distance, well beyond VLOS.

In short, anything DJI can add in to increase flight reliability would be welcome additions. We may even get motor redundancy, i.e. an ability to continue flying on 3 motors should one fail. This is a tall order for a quadcopter, but DJI has achieved something similar with the new A3 Flight Controller, which can keep a hexacopter airborne with up to 3 motor failures. Speaking of the A3…

In-Flight Precision

This is something we may see in a new Inspire: basically a variation of the precision and redundancy we see in DJI’s top-of-the-line A3 / A3 Pro Flight Controllers.

Why? Well, given that the Inspire is marketed as a “professional” drone, and given that DJI is actively pushing into the industrial / commercial product space (beyond its dominance in the pro video market) it would make sense that the Inspire have more precise in-flight positioning. At the very least, I hope we get the GPS / GLONASS system that the Mavic has.

There’s a possibility we may even get full GNSS with the Inspire – that would make use of almost all the geo-spatial positioning systems out there, with global coverage. This would significantly improve the precision and accuracy for surveying and mapping applications, and we may even see a variation that includes RTK-GNSS, perhaps as an optional add-on.  But that’s a long shot.

In Short

So in conclusion, here’s my prediction / wish-list for the new Inspire, if and when it appears:

  • Obstacle Avoidance
  • FPV Camera (or cameras)
  • Longer Flight Times
  • Greater Range
  • Terrain Follow
  • Improved Deployment (folding props, no more travel mode)
  • Redesigned Landing Gear (accommodating all payloads, without risers)
  • Other Phantom / Mavic Features (Active Track, Tripod Mode, Gesture Mode…)
  • Systems Redundancy
  • In-Flight Precision (GPS / GLONASS, possibly GNSS)

What do you think? What would you like to see? Did I miss something? Post your comments below, or post on our Facebook page.

Nick Foxall

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