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'Smallest, lightest' drone to take to SA skies

Read time 5min 20sec
DJI's Mavic Mini to lift off in SA.
DJI's Mavic Mini to lift off in SA.

South African drone enthusiasts will be able to get their hands on DJI’s latest drone range, the Mavic Mini, as early as 11 November. Furthermore, the new DJI Fly app will make its debut on the same day.

This news was confirmed yesterday at the launch event of the Mavic Mini in Sandton, Johannesburg, at the headquarters of the Core Group, which is one of the distributing partners of DJI drones in SA.

Weighing just 249-grams, the average size of a smartphone, the Mavic Mini is describedas an “ultra-light folding drone” designed to be the everyday flying smartphone camera.

Michael Gibson, product manager at Core Group, said: “We are hoping to go live on the 11 or 12 [November]…we are waiting for ICASA approval on that but we should have it within the week of the 11.”

“The advantages of this product revolve around the fact that it’s the most portable drone that is part of the DJI family…it’s that drone that is meant to be a little more accessible in terms of being user-friendly. The app has been simplified to be more user-friendly as well – for the everyday person who wants to capture special memories,” added Taryn Hyam, head of group communications at Core Group.

In terms of the DJI Fly app, it will feature dedicated tutorials to help new pilots learn about flying, and pre-set editing templates.

New pilots can choose to fly in position mode for basic operation. More experienced pilots can unlock more capabilities in sport mode, and content creators can choose ‘cinesmooth’ mode for smoother shots and more cinematic footage.

Hyam indicated the iStore has added “drone days” for customers that want to test drones for the first time, and noted there will be regular sessions of drone days.

When folded, the Mavic Mini can fit in the palm of your hand.
When folded, the Mavic Mini can fit in the palm of your hand.

According to Alon Zahavi, sales trainer at Core Group, the Mavic Mini is designed as an entry into the market, to be cost-efficient and for day-to-day life. “It is great for things like a simple environment, close shots of family gatherings and trips. It’s almost like having a flying phone camera – it is the ultimate portable device.”

Zahavi explained that given its small size, the Mavic Mini doesn’t need to be registered with aviation authorities, meaning anybody has the freedom to fly the drone and can do so when travelling overseas. However, national key points like embassies, airports and government buildings are still off limits.

In a statement, DJI says regulators around the world have agreed that drones weighing less than 250-grams are virtually harmless. “In a fall or a collision, a sub-250g drone is just not going to cause the same kind of damage as a heavier drone.

“Since they consider sub-250g drones to pose the lowest risks, they have made them subject to fewer restrictions or requirements than their heavier counterparts. The rules differ in each country, but in many places, a sub-250g drone may not require registration, and may also be eligible for more complex operations, such as flying over people.”

The Mavic Mini is the first DJI drone to weigh below 250g.
The Mavic Mini is the first DJI drone to weigh below 250g.

Hyam elaborated that every country has specific drone laws and SA’s laws are quite specific and strict, but the app helps guide as to where one can and can’t fly.

“One of the laws that are specific to South Africa, where you are not allowed to fly, is national parks; for example, the Kruger National Park.

“Laws are specific to a country and you need to be aware of what is specific to each region. If you land in Los Angeles (LA) and you want to fly a drone…LA has so many helicopter pads, so wherever there is a helicopter pad or some sort of airport it becomes a no-fly zone for drones.”

The main thing to understand is that there are certain no-fly zones and if a person plans to use a drone to capture content for commercial use, that person should be a registered drone pilot, she added.

The Mavic Mini’s other key features include a vision sensor and GPS precise hover, 30 minutes of flight time, three-axis gimbal with 2.7 camera, 4km high-definition video transmission, as well as simplified recording and editing with the DJI Fly app.

Mavic Mini will come in two purchase options: the standard version, which includes Mavic Mini, remote controller, one battery, extra propellers and all necessary tools and wires for R6 999, and the Mavic Mini Fly More Comb, which includes all of the components from the standard version with the addition of the 360-degree propeller cage, two-way charging hub, three batteries in total, three sets of extra propellers and a carrying case, for the price of R8 999.

Drone fever

Gibson said Core Group started distributing DJI drones about a year ago, and appetite for these devices is growing. “South Africa is one of the growing markets for drones. In some countries it has kind of plateaued because of the laws and regulations getting stricter but here we’re strict but not as much as international laws.

“There’s definitely a huge appetite, especially on the commercial side – security companies, search and rescue missions, surveying land and agriculture – there are so many uses for them, which is great.”

Navworld, which has been bringing DJI drones into SA since mid-2017, revealed last year that 20 000 to 25 000 DJI drones have been sold since they were first introduced to the country by various distributors.

Last year, the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development revealed it is using five unmanned drones to monitor its infrastructure projects across the city region's development corridors.

At the time, the department explained the drones assist in checking whether construction on site is in accordance with architectural designs, adding this is to monitor building projects such as new schools, clinics, libraries and hospitals, among others.

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