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DJI Phantom 3, Inspire 1 drones gain autonomous flight modes

A September 7 firmware update will add DJI's Intelligent Flight modes, including waypoint navigation and Follow Me, to its current quadcopter lineup.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In August, drone manufacturer DJI announced the Phantom 3 Standard , an entry-level camera-toting quadcopter with autonomous flight modes that were oddly not available for its pricier linemates, the Advanced and Professional . That all changes on September 7 when a firmware update will add five of DJI's Intelligent Flight Modes to those models.

These modes include waypoint navigation, point of interest (POI) flight planning and a Follow Me function. Waypoint navigation lets you set up a multipoint path for the drone to follow while you control the camera angle, and paths can be saved so you can recreate the flight again and again.

POI flight planning allows you to set up an autonomous orbit around a subject at an altitude, distance and speed you select. The Phantom 3 will fly the path keeping the camera centered on your subject at all times.

Follow Me uses the drone's transmitter and your phone or tablet to track your movements. This lets you use a Phantom 3 as a personal camera operator as it follows you at a fixed altitude and distance while you do whatever. Keep in mind, though, it won't avoid obstacles, so riding a bike trail through the woods probably won't end well.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Also available are Course and Home Lock modes. The former makes all flight controls relative to your current position. That means moving the controller's stick left, right, forward or back will always move the Phantom 3 in those directions, regardless of where the camera is pointing.

Similarly, enabling the Home Lock mode will make the orientation relative to yourself as the home point. This is helpful if you've flown beyond line of sight and want to return home but can't determine the orientation.

Phantom 3 Advanced owners get a bonus, too: The firmware upgrade will add 2.7K (2,704x1,520-pixel) resolution movie capture at 30 frames per second.

Lastly, a firmware update will also be available for the professional-level Inspire 1 that will add all of these Intelligent Flight Modes except for Follow Me.

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