After Unboxing the Phantom 4, we were excited to test out the new flight modes; Tap To Fly and Active Track. In this blog post, I’ll explain and test the Active Track feature which allows you to select a subject via the app to autonomously follow.
Active Track vs Follow Me
There has been some confusion as to what the difference is between Follow Me and Active Track so lets clear that up before we dive in. The follow me feature has been around since the Phantom 3 series. The Follow Me feature works by tracking the GPS position of the Phantom controller, meaning that if you want to autonomously track a cyclist for example, using the follow me feature, the cyclist must have the controller on them.
Active Track works by the user selecting a subject to follow that’s within the cameras view, then the Phantom will autonomously track the subject. Going back to the cycling example, this means the cyclist does not have to be holding the controller for the Phantom to follow him.
Testing the Active Track Feature
Like everything, the proof is in the pudding so we decided to take it for a test run at the local skate park. If you haven’t already seen the results, check out the video above.
I was fairly skeptical and slightly nervous about doing this test as the idea of a drone autonomously following me scares me a little. However, knowing and having tested that the collision avoidance system works, I was happy to give it a go.
As I skated around the park, it did an incredible job at keeping up with me at a variety of speed and directions of movement. It was constantly using the collision avoidance system which was reassuring to see that it would prioritize safety over getting the shot.
After reviewing the footage, I was amazed at the shots it captured and how well it kept me in frame. It yaws the aircraft and tilts the camera in a surprisingly fluid motion to create, smooth, usable footage – better than many people could do when flying a Phantom manually. The shots still won’t be as smooth and dynamic as you could get when flying a DJI Inspire because you can have a 2 man setup meaning you can get incredibly smooth and dynamic shots, but for a 1 man setup and on a lower budget, the Phantom 4 does an amazing job.
The only negative thing I can say about it is, a couple of times, it lost me when I went out of frame (because I had gone directly under the aircraft at speed and the camera tilt could not tilt down fast enough) and it came up with an error saying Cannot Track Subject. Subject Lost. Searching… If i went back into frame it would recognise me again, however if i could not go back again we would have to regain control of the drone and start again. On the plus side, when it does loose the subject, it uses GPS to hold it’s position so that it doesn’t drift around and you can easily find it again while it’s in the air.
How To Use Active Track
To use the Active Track feature, you must first enable Multiple Flight Modes in the aircraft settings menu.
To access the intelligent flight modes, flick the switch on the back left of the controller into the ‘A’ position, this will then prompt you to select a flight mode. One of these options will be Active Track.
Once you have tapped on Active Track, you need to select your subject. To do this, all you have to do is draw a box around your intended target by dragging a box around the subject. Once it has recognized the subject, it will ask you to confirm it, then it’s good to go!
It will now start autonomously tracking the selected subject until the battery starts to run low or you take over control. To take control, either tap the ‘stop’ button on the left side of your screen or flick the switch on the controller out of A mode.
Word of Advice
Although the Phantom 4 has a collision avoidance system in place to avoid flying into any obstacles, I would advise being ready to regain control of the aircraft in case for the Phantom fails to detect an obstacle.
If you enable Backward Flying in the Visual Navigation settings, please note that there are no sensors for the collision avoidance system on the back of the aircraft. This means it will not detect or avoid anything in it’s path if it is fly backward.