The A3 is DJI’s new flagship flight controller announced at NAB 2016. The A3 is the kind of tech that keeps me up at night and derails concentration during conversations with friends and family. A serious upgrade from anything currently available from any manufacturer, the A3 will become the flight controller of choice for cinematographers and any mission critical industrial application. While the announcement of the A3 is practically hypnotic, the A3 Pro is even more tantalizing as it taps into additional IMU, GPS and compass sensors to give you more hardware redundancy than a RAID 10 hard drive array. While I’ve never had a flight controller fail in flight, hardware redundancy offers a more beneficial byproduct…error correction. By scanning all the additional hardware hundreds of times per second, erroneous data from the sensors is filtered out and ignored. Its fair to note that the A3 has one IMU built into the main controller so if your not opting for the A3 Pro, installation will be cleaner and more manageable. The A3 Pro should laugh in the face of fear from hardware failure, flips of death and fly aways. If that isn’t enough to flood your brain with dopamine and overwhelm you with bliss, we’re just getting warmed up. SDK support for developers should pave the way for Apps and custom code to add more functionality and uses than any of us can even imagine. Industrial applications alone are limitless and bidirectional communication will allow the A3 to easily interface with nearly any type of sensor for real time data acquisition. Even actuators can be controlled which is what I assume Amazon will implement for package delivery.
Another feature I really am eager to see actually work is the A3’s ability to self tune. Changing center of gravity, props, weight or compensation for windy conditions are just a few examples of when gain settings may need to be tweaked. Moving the A3 between aircraft frames is one example DJI gives but I don’t know too many people swapping flight controllers from frame to frame very often. Beginners should rejoice over this but hopefully DJI has fully beta tested this new feature before rolling it out.
While information on the A3 is splattered all over the internet and DJI’s site, there is very little information on some of the new optional add ons the A3 supports. The Lightbridge 2 and DJI GoApp has been crippled in functionality with the A2 in comparison to the experience of a Phantom 4 or Inspire 1. I expect much more functionality to be unlocked as the hardware joins up with the A3 and new GoApp software. Since the Ronin MX and X5 camera is compatible with the M600 airframe just released, its clear DJI is taking what worked on the Inspire 1 and making that possible on a larger platform. This should provide a more unified, integrated and pleasurable pilot experience for those who still need to fly larger birds. Those who are upgrading from a Phantom or Inspire 1 should feel far more comfortable making the transition since the interface will be similar.
Another option I expect to gain a lot of traction over previous iterations is the new DataLink Pro. Designed for the A3, this is DJI’s 2016 version of waypoint capability and the coolest part is when combined with the Lightbridge 2, your tablet or smart phone is already in place on the transmitter just begging to offer you additional functionality. If Amazon truly is going to provide package delivery, my bet is they’ll be using this to accomplish it. With the ability to control 5 aircraft at once and broadcast data on up to 32 devices it seems logical these capabilities will be ideal to fleets of copters operating on large scale. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Amazon has been testing the A3 and optional sensors for months….who knows.
When combined with the optional D-RTK GNSS (Global Network Satellite System), the A3 transforms from professional to invincible. Regardless if you call it an insurance policy or super hero companion adding D-RTK to the A3 pro is like Tony Stark suiting up to kick some ass. Boasting an inconceivable 1 centimeter hovering accuracy and a complete disregard to magnetic interference, D-RTK is the equivalent of aerial surgical precision with lead lining defenses. Compass interference has been the kryptonite of drone existence and I personally experienced on many extremely high stress aerial jobs. While it’s obvious when a steel structure is nearby, the magnetic interference you can’t see is what I most fear. With insurance for drones costing thousands of dollars a year, this may a way to lower premiums while lower your chances of ever having to make a replacement claim in the first place. For high end cinematographers, industrial data collection near power lines, bridges and buildings, D-RTK is a no brainer. Unfortunately, NASA precision comes at a hefty price tag. The DJI dual antenna D-RTK option is a whopping $4599 alone. If all the bliss and excitement you had was just replaced by a bit of nausea, I empathize with your sorrow.
While half the benefit is ours, the other side of the story is DJI gets more of your loyalty…like it or not. I speculate that DJI was frustrated seeing GoPro monopolize the camera market on entry level copters and not wanting to lose that revenue they developed cameras and gimbals to cut GoPro out of the equation. Now that logic has moved to intelligent battery packs, transmitters, video downlinks and of course gimbals. Thats ok if the product suits your needs but if it doesn’t there are compromises you’ll make to break free. As I type this Im staring at my credit card battling with pulling the trigger on the A3 now or in the very near future. I have absolutely no doubt that DJI will be flooded with preorders but it will come in waves as fence sitters all too familiar with DJI’s tendency to rush products to market wait to see whats left after the smoke clears.