LaCie DJI Copilot Hard Drive – First Look – By Droneflyers.com
Unlike the DJI/Segate Fly Drive which we reviewed earlier, the CoPilot is designed to work without the need for a companion computer. This means that Drone and Image/Video pros no longer have to tote a laptop along to enjoy backup and larger storage capacities. As many of us have learned, the newer 4K video files can easily outstrip the storage capabilities of SD and MicroSD cards and even tax our laptops, most of which have only 256G or 512G of SSD storage – and less than 1/2 that after the basic OS and other programs and some photos and music are installed.
What it Does
The LaCie DJI CoPilot has a built in rechargeable battery and numerous ports to allow connection to most any device. It also features a built-in LCD screen which gives status messages. The entire system is controlled by a smartphone or tablet (IOS or Android) and an app provided by LaCie. This app is effectively a File Manager, allowing the copying of various media to the CoPilot drive. In addition to the battery powered storage, the CoPilot can also serve as a USB charger – meaning it can be the single device you bring with your kit into the field. If your phone runs low on power you can plug it into the included full size USB port and quickly gain enough power to get that last great shot or video clip.
In addition to these features, the drive is part of the LaCie Ruggedized line – and also slash and water resistant. It is completely surrounded by thick rubber bumpers which even covers the ports – some of them can even be covered while in use (a small slot in the sides allows the wires to extend out for connection).
Who is it for?
Given the price of $349 (suggested list – street price may be lower), this drive is most suited for those who make income from their drone and/or camera services. Pros are well aware that trusting their data to a single source (the drone MicroSD card, etc.) can be chancy – therefore they often desire to back up “on set”. The Copilot allows them to do so without lugging a larger laptop and external drive. When they get back to their office or studio, they can mount the CoPilot as a hard drive and either use the files directly from it or move them to a desktop machine or other larger storage and editing arrays.
A hobbyist who travels or often gets “once in a lifetime” shots may want to spring for a solution such as this, despite the relatively high cost. After all, losing the footage from that trip to Iceland or Africa would be very disappointing. The same goes for important images such as those taken at weddings and other such events.
Our Experience and Initial Testing
The box, packing and included accessories all indicate a product that was built with quality in mind. Included are the hard drive with a rubberized bumper (built-in battery), a power supply and a number of cables and ports which allow connection tThe o most any phone, tablet, computer, drone, camera or SD/MicroSD card. Plug the power supply in so that you can charge the CoPilot internal battery while you learn the basics.
The first order of business is using one of the custom cords (rubber or silicone encased and splash proof) to hook your phone or tablet up to the DJI CoPilot. In my case, I use an iPhone 6s, so used the lightning cable for this connection. Visit the App store for your particular device and search for and download the Copilot app (searching for LaCie Copilot should find it). Fire up the app and it should guide you through a registration screen and then attempt to find the CoPilot drive. There is no on-off button for the CoPilot, but there is an “action” button which is activated by pressing on the rubber bumper opposite (across) from the side with the connection ports.
I did have a little trouble at first connecting and finding the drive – however, the drive updated itself (firmware) from the phone and a reset of the CoPilot (small hole with paper clip) seemed to fix the initial small burps in the system. I expect both the app and the firmware will improve with the final release and with future builds.
The LCD screen which covers most of the front of the drive is quite limited in function – you will find it much easier to use with the app interface. It does not display color or pictures, but rather only shows drive capacity and certain error and status messages. It does allow you to do some limited actions (copy contents of SD card, etc.) without even hooking up your phone and app to the system. Pressing the “action” button will either allow or cancel certain actions depending on whether you press it quickly or press and hold for a couple seconds.
Connections, Connection and more Connections!
I was able to plug my Sony RX-100 into the CoPilot – either directly, or by use of the SD Card plugged into the CoPilot. Photos on my phone could be moved or copied to the drive also. A direct USB connection to my Phantom 4 Advanced provided the same capabilities – copying or moving individual, selected or all files to the CoPilot.
The included USB to USC (USB-C is on the drive, along with other USB ports) allowed me to connect my 2015 MB Pro to the drive and mount it as a normal volume. Note that you may have to enable “drive sleep” in the app in order to do so – this is addressed in the owners manual.
I tried enough connections to confirm that the drive works as advertised. Other USB storage could probably also be connected including additional hard drives – again, allowing use of these devices without a computer.
Note that the larger (standard) USB connection on the CoPilot can also be used to charge other devices and would probably power and run a USB powered hard or SSD drive.
Copying Files from Phantom 4 (CD-Gadget) to the LaCie Copilot Drive
I wasn’t able to do extensive testing, but one transfer of over a GB of video files (7 separate files totaling 1.2G) was done with only a 1% drop in the reported battery level. The battery does seem to lose quite a bit of charge when not in use – mine lost about 25% in 24 hours – so make sure it is fully charged before taking it out to the field.
Extrapolating those numbers, my guess is that it could transfer about 110-120G with a single battery charge. LaCie and others will probably publish some more accurate figures as they test using larger files. If you use a Mavic Air, Mavic pro or machine with a similar bitrate, that means you could fit as much as 4 hours of 4K video on the CoPilot with a single battery charge. If you are using a higher end machine such as the Phantom 4 Professional 4K at the full 100 Mbps bitrate, that would be reduced to about 2.5-3 hours (depends on the codec mode and other factors). Both should be more than enough for any extended outing.
Although I haven’t tried it, the real back country shooters could probably come up with a car charger or use an inverter in order to recharge the CoPilot.
What the Future Holds
The LaCie DJI CoPilot is the most advanced rugged mobile hard drive systems currently available in the consumer market. However, as with any tech, it’s likely the future will build on this type of device. I am imagine a $499 device with a full color touch screen, SSD storage and wireless and bluetooth connections in addition to the current ports…no, it doesn’t exist, but who knows what is in the minds of those folks at Seagate and DJI. While I am wishing, this new device could also feature a cellular modem, sim card and unlimited cloud storage which syncs automatically! Until then, the DJI CoPilot will have to do…
If your budget allows, you might want to “dump the laptop” and bring along a higher storage and ruggedized device that will allow you to keep your files safe and sound.
The Lacie CoPilot should be shipping at approx. the time this review is published (middle of May, 2018) and will be available at most tech outlets including Amazon and DJI.
Some additional pictures with captions follow below:
Status Screen while Files are copying to LaCie DJI CoPilot