As the rumor mill predicted, DJI introduced a smaller and lighter camera quadcopter (drone) named “Spark” on May 24. The Event was held in Grand Central Station in New York City.
Droneflyers.com obtained a pre-production model which we will be testing and flying extensively in the weeks ahead. Here are the very basics as we know them before…and at the time of launch.
Price: $499 for the basic unit – operated by gesture control and/or smartphone.
$699 – for a complete package with Remote Control, Case, Prop Guards, Multiple Battery Charger, etc.
The Spark is a small drone that does not fold – but is smaller and lighter than the Mavic Pro. It contains a 2-axis gimbal capable of 12MP Stills and 1080 Video. The Spark is positioned as a “starter” drone but I’m sure more experienced and creative pilots will be able to use it also due to its size and capabilities. If you just want to order one now – try this link at DJI.
In terms of weight, here is what our little scale read:
Weight – 344 grams with battery and prop guards (12.12 oz.)
305.4 grams with battery – no prop guards – (10.77 oz.)
Battery only – 95.8 grams (3.38 oz)
Flight time is advertised as 16 minutes.
The base unit will sell for $499 and is controlled by “gesture control” (your hands, palms, face, etc.) or a smart device and wireless communication protocol. Advanced control on the smart device is through the DJI GO 4 App and a similar interface as other DJI models – except that the “sticks” show up virtually on the screen when your fingers touch it. The Go App for Spark features a number of Intelligent Flight Modes as per the screenshot below:
Note – there are some fancy moves such as “palm launching” as well as new camera modes and controls – most designed for the “selfie” aspect of this model. For example, a pano mode is included as well as a option to have a shallow depth of field (DJI calls this “Shallowfocus”). Vertical and Horizontal models are included (Landscape and Portrait).
An R/C (Remote) will be available for the Spark – as an extra cost option. This greatly extends the range and height.
Range and Wind Resistance
As delivered (no optional remote), the Spark is designed for “close-in” photography and video – joining a number of similar models (Breeze, Dobby, etc.) but with the addition of a stabilized gimbal. That’s a big deal – the difference between video from a gimbal and a stationary camera are vast. However, with the wireless protocol you are limited to a max height of 50 m and distance of 100 m. If past experience is any guide, this will vary depending on the terrain and whether or not multiple wireless signals are present. The optional Remote adds vast range – as follows:
2.4 GHz – FCC: 1.2 mi (2 km); CE: 0.3 mi (500 m); SRRC: 0.3 mi (500 m) (unobstructed and free of interference)
5.8 GHz – FCC: 1.2 mi (2 km); CE: 0.18 mi (300 m); SRRC: 0.7 mi (1.2 km) (unobstructed and free of interference)
Given the size of this model, LOS operation (line of sight) will probably be 1 km or less, making the stock range more than enough for any reasonable use case. Wind resistance is good – equal to the Mavic Pro in being able to withstand winds in the vicinity of 20MPH. Of course, caution dictates that smart pilots are not going to fly when winds are gusting to 25MPH plus…and always remember that the winds can be much stronger even at an altitude of 100+ feet. However, there is a Sport Mode which allows flying in even higher winds!
Video FPV to your device is 720 30fps. The DJI Goggles WILL be able to work with the Spark perhaps (slightly higher latency – given as 200ms in preliminary spec – may improve with opt. Remote) – but ONLY when the machine is paired with the optional Remote. Spark features forward facing obstacle avoidance (to 16 feet) and built-in intelligence (follow, recognize, gesture) and also will attempt to avoid landing on uneven surfaces, plants, etc. There is no “sonar” but infrared and a small camera are located on the bottom. DJI claims the VPS system on Spark is capable of sensing the ground at up to 98 feet high.
As with other DJI products, the Spark features dual-band GPS and the usual in failsafe and RTH modes and user settings.
The Spark batteries can be charged on a separate charger (holds 3 batteries and uses household current) or singly with the mini-usb port on the Spark. If you just want to order one now – try this link at DJI
We created an introductory video so that you can see most of the hardware features of the Spark:
Small and compact, Spark’s camera features a 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor, allowing you to shoot stabilized video at 1080p and stills at 12 MP. Larger pixels mean Spark is acutely sensitive to light and records colors precisely. Bitrate of the recorded video is (not yet known). The gimbal is designed for maximum wind resistance, allowing for a Sport Mode which beats most other DJI products as well as competitive models.
Some Initial Hints for Setup and Startup
DJI has built in QR codes which can be scanned to help set up your new Spark Drone. In my case, I was working with a preproduction model and I also like to be “hands on” with my networks, so here is how I did it. You MUST be in an area where you are connected to a wireless network.
1. You must download or update your DJI Go 4 App to the newest version. A QR code is furnished in the quick start guide to do so. Once you have updated to the newest version of Go, the upper right menu has an additional line item which allows you to scan QR codes for future updates – this is a great feature!
2. Charge the Spark Battery Fully. While the battery is removed, copy the SSID name and password from the small label which is exposed when the battery is removed. Write it on a piece of paper.
3. Install Props and Prop Guards – there is no gimbal lock (at least not on my model).
4. Turn on the Spark and then find its wireless network with your iphone or android device. Select that network, navigate back to DJI GO 4 and the app should check the firmware version and tell you to “Go Fly”.
Note – the above assumes everything went perfectly. Updates and other actions, such as logging into DJI (authorization) often requires switching back and forth between your home wireless network and the Spark network since both devices cannot be connected at the same time. This can be confusing – but be patient and think about what the system is trying to do…and choose the proper network.
Turning of “search for known networks” and other such options is suggested. Mine was on and I found my iphone switching by itself out of the Spark connection back to my local router. Turning the option off solved the problem.
Hopefully others will gain more experience with the network switching and we or another blog will be able to write a more clear guide to exactly how to troubleshoot the dual network connections.
One everything is upgraded and connected…and the Spark Network active and chosen, it should stay that way until you are finished with your flying and manually change back to your home router or turn wireless off.
The Spark is brand new and we have only taken a single flight as of the original publication date of this article. In the week ahead we will get a number of additional flights in and write an additional article and/or videos on the operation. It is unclear whether the optional remote will be available for testing in the near future…which would be disappointing since we would love to fly it with real “sticks”. But everything comes – eventually – to those with patiences and I’m sure someday I will be flying this little Spark until it becomes a dot in the sky!
More coming soon……continuously…..as we, DJI and other trusted sources gain experience.
Note that the youtube video (above in this article) gives you the best look at the machine itself. However, for those who don’t have video players and/or who prefer stills, we have placed a small gallery below (if not there yet, it will be soon!).
Thanks again – and if you want a Spark – and wish to help support this site, you can order (or preorder) one at this link.