For the past three years our favorite drone has consistently been produced by one company, DJI. There have been lots of interesting challenges from other startups in the US and China, but so far no one has produced a unit that delivers the same quality, consistency, and ease of use. In our most recent round of tests, however, we praised the basic capabilities of the Typhoon 500 drone from Yuneec. And today at CES Yuneec unveiled a new unit, the Typhoon H, the promises to deliver a high-end, Hollywood-caliber drone, but at just two-thirds of the price of DJI's Inspire 1.
The Typhoon H, like the Inspire 1, has retractable landing gear and a camera which can pan a full 360 degrees. Unlike the Inspire and the previous version of the Typhoon, the new unit has six rotors instead of four. Yuneec says this will allow the craft to remain stable and land in the event it loses one or two motors. DJI also has a six-rotor craft aimed at Hollywood professionals, the S900, which sells for $3,400 when fully equipped with a HD camera. The Typhoon H is expected to retail for $1,799, while the Inspire 1 goes for $2,600.
It can fly even if it loses a rotor or two
The new Typhoon H is also promising the full suite of autonomous features, something which has become table stakes for drones these days. It has Orbit, Point of Interest, Curved Cable, and something called Journey. It has basic sense and avoid technology on board, using "ultrasonic proximity detection" to automatically dodge large obstacles. In theory it should also give the aircraft more lift, allowing for heavier and more sophisticated camera equipment to be attached, as you can with the S900.
All of this is a very attractive offering against the initial value proposition of the Inspire 1, but DJI has evolved that unit, along with accessories and autonomous software, in the year since it was released. The Typhoon H shoots 4K video and 12 megapixel stills, just like the original camera on the Inspire. But DJI now sells the Zenmuse, which can be attached to the Inspire, shoots micro 4/3 and RAW footage, and allows for more fine-grained tuning of color and focus while in the air. Pretty soon you'll even be able to do thermal imaging.
It has the autonomous features it needs, but not the high-end camera
In terms of autonomous flight, the Inspire launched with very little. But DJI pushed a firmware update in the summer of 2015 that added point of interest, orbit cam, and Follow Me mode. In our testing we found DJI's autonomous features were not quite as refined as what Yuneec and 3D Robotics are currently offering, but it also seems clear they will improve with time and can be updated over the air.
Yuneec's biggest advantage here might be price and the ability to sense and avoid. A fully equipped Solo from 3D Robotics currently costs $1,799 and is roughly $800 less than a new Inspire 1. "A central part of our mission is to bring new and advanced creative possibilities within the reach of everyone," said Yu Tian, chief executive officer of Yuneec International. "We’ve engineered the Typhoon H to redefine what customers should expect to pay for a drone with such an array of professional features. At this price point, no other drone comes close to the Typhoon H in terms capability and value."
The second half of this value proposition, the ability to see obstacles and prevent crashes, is something we're looking forward to testing once we get our hands on a review unit. In addition to its ultrasonic proximity sensor, Yuneec said the Typhoon H was built to allow for additional components, such as Intel's RealSense camera, to expand its capabilities in the future. If this tech works well, that would be a very compelling reason for any pilot, beginner or professional, to pick this drone over the current competition, none of which offer anything like robust sense and avoid.