By the early 2010’s, YouTube had blown up, allowing us to create and consume amateur content in quantities that we never had before, and people were hungry for more angles. And GoPro had cornered the action-sports market with small, affordable cameras that captured incredible first-person POV footage, but there was a clear hole in the hobbyist videographer’s repertoire: aerial. Sure, major companies like Red Bull could afford to rent a helicopter to shoot an epic stunt, but it was almost completely inaccessible to consumers and the indie set. Inventive filmers would attach GoPros to remote-control planes, helicopters, and even weather balloons, but none of those were particularly easy to fly. Then, in 2013, DJI introduced the Phantom drone.
“DJI was one of the first companies to understand that a consumer drone is, primarily, a camera platform,” says Bill Ray, senior research director for Gartner, a business consulting and research firm. He says that through making drones that are easy to use in a way that doesn’t reflect the complexity of their inner workings, DJI is able to attract photographers and not just technically inclined amateur drone pilots. The Phantom was the first gyro-stabilized quadcopter with GPS that came in a nice, pre-assembled package. Quadcopters (with four rotors) were once extremely difficult to control, even for professionals. They were twitchy, and if you got them off-axis they’d crash and often end up totaled. But if you could keep a quadcopter in the air, it was exceptionally maneuverable.
So the Phantom did all of the stabilization work for you with a built-in IMU (inertial measurement unit) that could keep everything balanced. IMUs were already found in larger aircraft (both piloted and autonomous), and smartphones and wearable devices had some cheap versions. But DJI—who up until this point had made drone kits and components that people would have to assemble themselves—was the first to build these into a ready-to-fly drone of this caliber. The integration of GPS and a digital compass was at least as big of a deal. Previous quadcopters would force you to constantly make micro-adjustments in the controls—they didn’t know where they were in space, so you had to do the thinking for them
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