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Drones have come a long way. Gone are the days where we only had toy drones with basic features, and you had to spend thousands of dollars for a few advanced features.
Inventions and advancements in drone tech have helped bridge this gap. One of the latest features that every drone seems to have now is the Follow Me, or Active Track in DJI drones. So, what are they, and how do they work?
Follow Me and ActiveTrack function the same way – they allow the drone to follow you autonomously. But ActiveTrack is more advanced as it combines visual recognition, GPS, obstacle detection, and collision avoidance.
Keep reading to learn more about these two features, which DJI drones have them, and how to get the most out of them.
What is DJI Follow Me? #
As the name suggests, the DJI Follow Me function is an autonomous feature that allows the drone to follow you. That’s right. It’s just one of the ways drones have made photography and videography easier.
There are times when you’re out exploring nature, rock climbing, mountain climbing, jogging, biking, or any other outdoor activity and realize you have to be controlling the drone at all times. This makes some shots quite tricky.
The Follow Me feature makes it easier for you by following you and recording the event as you focus on other fun activities. Wondering how it all works? Read on.
How does Follow Me in DJI drones work? #
Below are two ways the Follow Me feature works on DJI drones.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced drone pilot, you probably already know the importance of GPS in drones. It helps in navigation, stabilization, mapping, and it even made the Follow Me feature possible.
What happens is the drone has a GPS receiver, and it’s designed to follow a Ground Station Controller.
Now, this could be the drone’s controller, your smartphone, or a stand-alone device that you can wear. As long as the drone is in communication with this controller, it will keep following it.
The only flaw with GPS is the connection is not always strong. This could result from interference, low battery levels on the transmitter, moving too far from the drone, etc.
But it’s a good thing some drones have safety features like hovering or RTH in case this happens.
Vision recognition tech #
Instead of using GPS, Vision Recognition Tech uses sensors to identify people, sound, and moving objects. This technology is a relatively recent introduction in drones, but it works better than GPS.
You see, with GPS, if the connection is lost, the drone will not have a GSC to follow. But with Vision Technology, the drone will keep following the moving object as long as it can “see” it.
Programming drones to identify people or moving objects involves “training” the data, where you teach the sensors to identify a certain predefined pattern. For instance, they are trained to identify people, vehicles, or animals and they’ll keep following the assigned object as long as it fits the pre-defined criteria.
However, this method has a downside too. If there’s poor lighting, poor contrast, several moving objects, or the subject keeps disappearing, it will be less effective.
Obstacle avoidance #
Not all Follow Me drones have obstacle avoidance, but for those that do, it comes as an added advantage.
Obstacle avoidance technology uses sensors to find obstacles along the path and map out a path for the drone to follow by avoiding these obstacles. All of this happens in milliseconds, allowing the drone to actively follow you, even in areas with trees, buildings, etc. As such, you don’t have to worry about controlling the drone while in this mode.
Gimbal control #
In some cases, you have to be in control of the gimbal. If you don’t, the drone will keep following you, but you will often go out of the frame.
This makes the Follow me mode quite ineffective, especially when you’re the subject. But if you point the camera at the subject and move around within the frame, you don’t have to worry about this limitation.
Tips for DJI Follow Me #
The best way to achieve Follow Me would be to combine GPS and Vision Recognition Tech, which DJI has done. But I’ll discuss that later in the article. First, let’s see how you can best utilize the Follow Me feature when powered by either GPS or Vision Recognition.
Test it in wide-open spaces #
I know I mentioned that some drones have obstacle avoidance. What I didn’t mention is that it may be good on paper, but in the practical sense, it may have some flaws. So, whether your drone has or lacks obstacle avoidance features, use it in a wide-open space where there are no obstacles until you get the hang of it.
And when you decide to try it in areas with a few obstacles, make sure these obstacles are visible.
Another reason you should always find open places is that, in RTH, drones tend to shoot to a higher altitude, and they could crash into obstacles. And when the drone decides to land, it may also land in unfavorable places.
Maintain a low altitude (Less than 300 feet / 100 meters) #
To effectively use the Follow Me mode, the drone needs to be reasonably close to the object it’s following. Why? For starters, that’s the only way to get a clear image of the object and the scenery you’re filming. If the drone flies at a higher altitude, you may have to zoom, and you end up recording blurred footage.
Secondly, being close to the object ensures a strong connection between the controller and the drone. When this connection is lost, the drone may fly away or hover. In the case of DJI drones, the drone will hover or automatically initiate the Return-To-Home feature. Remember, you were on the move, so having to go back to the last known take-off point would be a problem.
Plan the route #
If your drone can follow waypoints, you could program a route where the drone will avoid obstacles. If it doesn’t, a little reconnaissance will help identify the main obstacles along the path, the height of these obstacles, and the altitude you’ll need to maintain to avoid these obstacles while maintaining good quality for the footage.
Which DJI drones have Follow Me? #
Below is a list of DJI drones equipped with the Follow Me feature.
- DJI Phantom 3 Series (GPS)
- DJI Mavic Air
- DJI Mavic Pro
- DJI Phantom 4
- DJI Inspire 1
How to switch on the DJI Follow Me mode #
The DJI Follow Me mode is built-in to the DJI GO app. Below is a step-by-step process on how to launch it.
- Switch on your drone and controller.
- Connect the drone to the controller.
- Open the DJI Go app.
- Tap on the “Enter Camera View” to see the drone’s live footage.
- Launch off the drone, and make sure it’s in P or GPS mode. Make sure it’s not on sport mode.
- Fly to an altitude of at least 32 feet (10 meters) and switch on the F mode.
- You’ll get a prompt asking if you want to switch on the Intelligent Flight modes. Click “Okay”
- Select the Follow Me mode.
- The drone will display its altitude and ask you to select your Home Point as either My Position or Origin. Origin takes the drone back to the last-known take-off point while My Position will land the drone where you currently are.
- Confirm the distance between you and the drone is sufficient and tap on Apply.
- The drone will follow you at a constant distance and hover if you go too far from it.
Is ActiveTrack the same as Follow Me? #
ActiveTrack is an improved version of Follow Me. So, yes, you could say they’re almost the same thing. But with ActiveTrack, DJI added more features to make it more efficient, making it one of the best-selling features of their drones. Since we already know how Follow Me works, let’s explore the ActiveTrack feature.
What is ActiveTrack? #
First launched in 2016 in the DJI Phantom 4 drones, ActiveTrack is an advanced form of Follow Me that allows you to draw a box around the object that you want to be followed, and the drone will keep following it as long as it’s within its visual or sensing range.
This is thanks to state-of-the-art object detection and visual sensors. ActiveTrack is so advanced that the detection takes place in seconds. You can take sharp turns on a motorcycle or vehicle, and the drone will quickly readjust its position and the camera’s position to keep following you.
How does ActiveTrack work? #
As mentioned earlier, ActiveTrack utilizes both GPS and visioning systems. The visioning system enables it to identify the object to follow, while GPS enables navigation and altitude, and allows the drone to maintain a suitable distance from the subject.
GPS also enables the Return-To-home feature if the drone loses connection or in case the battery gets depleted (more on this later). As such, you don’t need to have any GSC on you for the drone to follow you. However, make sure you capture the whole object that needs to be followed in the box.
What are the DJI ActiveTrack modes? #
ActiveTrack has three modes to help you get creative with your outdoor filming.
1. Trace #
This feature allows the drone to follow behind you or the object of interest at a constant distance. You can also use it to make the drone circle around you by pushing the right control stick right or left.
Or use the slide feature on the DJI GO app. In the latest DJI drones, the drone will fly backward when the object turns around and starts walking towards the drone.
2. Parallel (profile) #
This feature will make the drone follow the object at a constant angle next to or parallel to the subject. Like the Trace mode, you can also make the drone circle around you.
3. Spot Light #
This mode keeps the camera pointed at the object of interest at all times. You can adjust the object framing using the left joystick or use the controller to maneuver the drone, but you can’t yaw while in this mode.
How to use ActiveTrack #
Here is how to find and use the ActiveTrack feature on your DJI drone:
- Switch on your drone, and connect it to your controller.
- Open the DJI GO and on the right side, look for a remote icon or drone icon and click on it.
- This will take you to Intelligent Flight modes. Tap on ActiveTrack.
- DJI drones are designed to automatically detect the most common subjects such as people, cars, boats, or even some animals. The selected object will have a green box around it.
- If it hasn’t selected the object you want it to follow, draw a box with your fingers around the subject.
- Once it locks the subject, on the right, you’ll have the option to select either the Trace, Spotlight, or Parallel Modes.
Where to Use ActiveTrack #
Below are some ways you can use the ActiveTrack feature:
Follow different subjects #
Create some of the most memorable moments by tracking yourself doing what you love, be it biking, jogging, or mountain climbing. Better yet, you can follow your vehicle while on a road trip, a yacht, a kayak, or a small boat. Trust me, there’s no other device that can help create such footage. Even a helicopter wouldn’t be this flexible.
Create a Short Film #
You can use one of the ActiveTrack modes to tell a story about a historical monument, a sculpture, a building, or anything you have in mind. These modes will help film from different perspectives while creating chances to take some of the most cinematic shots.
ActiveTrack safety features #
Below are the 2 main ActiveTrack safety features.
1. Hovering #
If the subject disappears, the drone will not fly away or keep moving in the same direction. Instead, it will hover and wait for the subject to reappear.
A subject could disappear by going deep into the water or behind an obstacle. If the drone doesn’t find the subject, get your controller and take control of the drone.
2. RTH #
If you don’t take control of the drone while it’s hovering, it will automatically initiate RTH and fly back to the take-off point or your position when the battery charge is almost depleted.
RTH also kicks in when the connection between the drone and the controller is weak or lost.
Tips when using ActiveTrack #
Below are some tips to help you get the most out of ActiveTrack.
Color contrasting #
This is the difference in color or shade between the subject you’re trying to follow and the background. ActiveTrack will be more effective when there’s excellent contrast or where the subject stands out from the surroundings. That makes it easy for the drone to identify the subject.
For instance, if you want the drone to follow you when mountain climbing, wear bright clothes that have a different color from the vegetation around you.
Aircraft mode and speed #
As I’ve highlighted a few times, your drone needs to be in P-Mode when using ActiveTrack. Why? Because P-Mode is slower. We don’t need the drone moving faster than the subject. Instead, you need to make sure the subject matches the drone’s speed.
Pay attention to the battery levels #
One of the limiting features facing the ActiveTrack feature is the drone’s flight time. So, when launching the ActiveTrack mode, check the level of battery charge left, estimate how long the drone will be flying, and consider how much charge it will need for it to either Return-To-Home or land.
Which DJI drones have ActiveTrack? #
If you want to enjoy ActiveTrack, below are the drones you should look for.
- Mavic Air 2
- Mavic 2 Pro
- Mavic 2 Zoom
- Inspire 2
- Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
- Phantom 4 Pro
- Phantom 4 Advanced
- Phantom 4
- Mavic Pro Platinum
- Mavic Pro Alpine White
- Mavic Pro
Can a drone follow a car? #
Yes, a drone can follow a car, both in the Follow Me and ActiveTrack features. Just make sure your car moves at a speed almost the same as the drone’s, and keep it in the drone camera’s frame.
However, remember that drones aren’t allowed to fly over moving traffic since they could crash and cause damage. The Follow Me mode is best used on rural roads where there isn’t much traffic.
Does the DJI Mini 2 have Follow Me? #
The DJI Mini 2 is one of the best starter drones, thanks to its lightweight and advanced features. Unfortunately, DJI had to sacrifice object detection sensors and the entire ActiveTrack system to make this drone lightweight.
However, its intelligent flight modes (Quickshot, Dronie, Helix, Rocket, and Circle) bring you closer to the ActiveTrack experience. And we have discussed how you can use them to make the drone follow you in this post »
And that wraps up my guide on Follow me and ActiveTrack on DJI drones. Follow Me primarily uses GPS or Vision Recognition, while ActiveTrack uses both. Most of the recent DJI drones have ActiveTrack since it is more accurate and provides more options for use.
However, GPS-enabled Follow Me mode is still viable, especially in cases where the camera can’t find the subject. I think instead of completely phasing out GPS-enabled Follow Me, they should add the ability to follow a GSC in ActiveTrack to make it more effective.