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Drones will follow us like little puppy dogs

DJI, the Chinese drone maker that accounted for 70 percent of the consumer drone market last year, released a new, foldable, lightweight quadcopter today that can be operated with a smartphone alone.

It’s called the Mavic Pro, and compared to what’s already on the market, it will likely prove to be the most accessible, foolproof consumer drone yet.

Not to be outdone by GoPro, the sports tech company that nudged its way into the drone scene last week with the announcement of its Karma drone, the unmanned aerial vehicle pros at DJI are unveiling new AI-enhanced features that make its Mavic drone a competitive option in an expanding hobby drone market.

For one, the drone collapses to about the size of a water bottle, folding into itself so you can drop it in a backpack without a case — an advantage over the GoPro Karma, which requires a separate carrier.

But, by far, the coolest feature of the Mavic Pro is its ability to follow you without holding a controller, thanks to DJI’s image recognition system that can lock the camera on anything in the frame.

The Phantom 4, DJI’s most popular aircraft, has the same ability, but on the Mavic it’s even more fine tuned and feels oddly like having a friendly pet by your side. The Mavic Pro is smaller, quieter and more nimble, giving it less of a creepy-flying-computer feel than the Phantom. The aerial camcorder will film 1080p HD video while tailing at a safe distance with its obstacle avoidance system.

Not all the controller-free features on the Mavic are hands-free. The drone is also capable of gesture recognition, meaning it can read hand signals to operate without input from the controller.

Draw a box with your fingers around your face, and it’ll focus there. Then keep up the charade by pantomiming a camera with your hands, flicking your index finger up and down to trigger the drone to countdown to snap a picture with its 12 megapixel camera.

The drone talks to your phone through an encrypted connection and can broadcast live video to Facebook, Periscope or YouTube with the DJI app, signaling DJI wants to cozy up to extreme sports communities that like to spread around their adventuring videos.

According to the folks at DJI, the Mavic is only going to get smarter as their team continues to refine the artificial intelligence used for subject recognition, which will be pushed to the device through software updates.

The Mavic Pro can race up to 22 miles per hour against wind. But it also has a setting that slows max speed to under three miles per hour to help new entrants get the hang of flying.

Although it’s a great drone for beginners excited to capture impossible-by-human-standards aerial photography, it is also a professional piece of equipment, and it isn’t cheap. The Mavic Pro is available for preorder for $999 with the first shipment scheduled for mid-October.

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