DJI Launches Dock 2 Automated ‘Drone in a Box’

The enterprise solution is designed to automate routine tasks that would normally require a drone pilot, such as surveying and inspections.

The world’s most prolific manufacturer and seller of consumer drones is introducing a new “drone in a box” solution globally.

Chinese drone manufacturer DJI on Tuesday announced the worldwide launch of Dock 2, an automated solution aimed at enterprise customers. The drone in a box offering includes a takeoff and landing hub and two new, specially designed drones, intended to automate use cases such as surveying, inspections, asset management, and security.

DJI—known for its consumer camera drones that are widely used by hobbyists in the U.S. and globally—unveils Dock 2 about six months after revealing its first delivery drone, FlyCart 30. The company launched global sales of that model in January.

At the same time, DJI and other Chinese drone manufacturers face a prolonged push by U.S. lawmakers to ban their technology among federal agencies. Lawmakers have referred to the drones as “TikTok with wings,” in reference to the allegations of spying levied against the Chinese social media app. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, recently released guidance warning of potential cybersecurity threats from Chinese drone manufacturers.

DJI has pushed back against all allegations, characterizing them as “inaccurate and unsubstantiated” and a bid by the U.S. to shield its domestic drone industry from foreign competition.

DJI drones are considered some of the cheapest and highest quality models on the market for hobbyists and public safety agencies. CNBC last year estimated the company is responsible for about 7 in 10 global consumer drone sales.

“Today, far too many workers must perform repetitive but complex and dangerous jobs manually on-site,” said Christina Zhang, senior director of corporate strategy at DJI. “With DJI Dock 2, we’re delivering a cost-effective automated aerial solution to complete these jobs efficiently from a safe distance.”

DJI claims Dock 2 can capture higher-precision images and fly longer than other drone in a box solutions. The solution is 75 percent smaller and 68 percent lighter than the company’s previous generation, with a weight of 75 pounds and volume of 3.5 square feet. Its batteries can be wirelessly charged from 20 to 90 percent in just over half an hour.

Dock 2 is designed to automate aerial missions such as surveying, inspections, and mapping. The system can be programmed to automate missions, though operators at any time can step in to control the flight and gimbal angle. They can also remotely observe weather, environmental, and takeoff and landing conditions through internal and external lenses.

The system is installed on-site and can be carried by two adults, which DJI says makes it more cost effective than its predecessor. Before deploying a drone, it uses vision sensors to ensure the flight path and destination have adequate GNSS signals, reducing the site selection process from five hours to about 12 minutes, the company claims.

Dock 2 was built to accommodate two new, specially designed drones, the DJI Matrice 3D and Matrice 3TD. Both models have an estimated flight time of 50 minutes and operating radius of 6 sm (5.2 nm), capable of recharging for 400 cycles. Each includes real-time kinematic (RTK) antennas, omnidirectional sensing, and automatic obstacle avoidance.

Matrice 3D is designed for automated, 1:500 high-precision surveying and mapping missions, using a telecamera and wide camera with mechanical shutter. The 3TD is built for inspections and security surveillance, using the same tele camera and a different wide camera. The latter also includes an infrared camera, which depicts visible light and thermal images.

Dock 2 and the two drones are compatible with DJI’s FlightHub 2 software, which allows users to manage automated missions through a cloud-based platform. Flight data collected by the software could be used to create precise 3D models, allowing operators to program the drone’s camera to capture the same area during recurrent flights. This could enable automation of routine surveying operations, for example.

Operators can also use FlightHub 2’s online weather forecasting application to send warnings and terminate flight tasks as needed. The software gauges rainfall, wind speed, and temperature to identify real-time weather changes. Dock 2 is rated to IP55 and Matrice 3D and 3TD to IP54, meaning the technology offers some protection from dust and water.

DJI claims maintenance on the Dock 2 system is only required every six months. In addition, the system can operate independently for up to five hours using a built-in battery, giving the drone plenty of time to return and land in the case of a power outage.

The company also says it supports an open ecosystem for Dock 2, allowing operators to use both the company’s and third-party software and payloads. Matrice 3D and 3TD, for example, can carry third-party loudspeakers, spotlights, or parachutes using the company’s E-Port and E-Port Lite kits (both are sold separately).

The intended customers for Dock 2 are likely public safety and law enforcement agencies, which could deploy the system for a range of potential use cases. However, state lawmakers in Florida and Arkansas have already enacted bans on Chinese-manufactured drones for their respective agencies. More states could follow as federal lawmakers continue efforts to restrict the drones’ use by agencies such as the Department of Defense.

A 2022 Washington Post report revealed that DJI, despite claims to the contrary, has received funding from “several state-backed investors,” including the state-owned SDIC Unity Capital fund. However, the manufacturer has denied allegations of government control over its activities, such as that China could compel it to aid in espionage activities. Users must opt in to share data such as flight logs, photos, or videos with the company—none of that information is collected by default, it claims.

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