The Best Drones with Obstacle Avoidance Functionality in 2021
One of the more innovative and impressive features drones now possess is obstacle avoidance.
Like smart little flyers, they can automatically detect and avoid obstacles in front of them, protecting themselves and others in the process. It all happens so instantly that we often don’t stop to think about the fantastic technology that happens behind the scenes.
So today, we’re going to take a more in-depth look. We’ll explore what obstacle avoidance is and how it actually works. Then we’ll unveil some of the best drones in the market that use this feature.
What is Obstacle Avoidance?
Obstacle Avoidance is a safety feature that’s equipped in some advanced drones. In a nutshell, it allows the UAV to detect any obstacle along its path. Once it does, it will then react automatically to avoid the obstruction.
The main reason to have obstacle avoidance is to prevent the drone from crashing, either through pilot error or when engaged in autonomous flight.
Different drones will have various behaviors whenever they encounter an obstacle. The simplest is for the drone not to do anything at all. It will only let the pilot know there’s an obstacle, and it’s up to that person to steer the drone away.
Some drones will stop and hover in place, which will then wait for further instructions from the pilot. Others will introduce a simple avoidance maneuver to prevent a crash. This is achieved by merely flying up or sideways until the path forward is clear.
The most advanced drones will have pathfinding algorithms that will calculate the best route to take to help avoid any obstacle. This is done in real-time and represents one of the most robust avoidance systems in today’s drones.
It’s important to note that obstacle avoidance is not a complete replacement for a pilot’s skill. At least, not with current technology. A human’s judgment is still needed to ensure a drone’s safe flight.
The Best Obstacle Avoidance Drones
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The DJI Mavic 2 series lays claim to having one of the most advanced obstacle avoidance systems on the planet.
- Flight Time: 30 minutes
- Range: 7 kilometers
- Camera: 4K resolution at 30 fps; 20 MP stills
- Weight: 1.64 pounds
- Gimbal: 3 Axis
The system used in the Mavic 2 is known as Omnidirectional Directional Sensing technology. It’s one of the first and rare drones that can detect collisions in every direction.
This is achieved by a combination of Vision and Infrared sensors located throughout the Mavic 2.
You have pairs of sensors located in the front, back, and underside of the drone. Additional infrared sensors are also located on the sides and top of the Mavic 2.
Let’s start with the forward vision, which can detect obstacles up to 20 meters away. This works even if the Mavic 2 is flying in fast, up to 50 km/h. The backward vision works in the same way but at a shorter 16 meters.
Both of these forward and backward sensors are what’s powering the Mavic 2’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS). It will continuously plan a flight path while you’re flying the drone, which allows it to avoid any obstacles in your way automatically. The great thing is that it works for both forwards and backward flight.
As for the side sensors, these are used whenever you’re engaged in any of the Mavic 2’s autonomous flight modes like ActiveTrack. The upward sensor isn’t as accurate, but it shouldn’t matter as there shouldn’t be many collisions from the top provided you fly your drone correctly.
The bottom sensors also work great at detecting obstacles but are there more as a landing assistant. It can detect the ground up to 50 meters away and allows the Mavic 2 to land safely. It also has Auxiliary Lights, so it can work even in low light conditions.
As great as the Mavic 2’s obstacle avoidance is, it does have its limitations. It will generally be spotty in low light conditions, as well when faced with reflective surfaces.
Nevertheless, it’s still one of the best avoidance systems of any drone on the planet. This is on top of the already amazing specs of the DJI Mavic 2 – including its fantastic battery life and range, plus the fantastic camera.
The Mavic Air 2 is a groundbreaking development in the mid-budget range. Almost no other drone compares for the price.
- Flight Time: 34 minutes
- Weight: 1.3lbs / 0.59kg
- Camera: 48MP with 4K/60FPS video
- Range: 10km / 6.2 miles
The DJI Mavic Air 2‘s quality isn’t much of a surprise to anyone that knows the drone space — we’ve been blown away with what this machine is capable of considering it falls way below the $1,000 price tag that is usually required for such a premium product.
Its 34 minutes of flight time is staggering given its size and price, making it one of the biggest battery life drones you’ll find.
The Mavic Air 2 has obstacle detection in three different directions and intelligent tracking, along with DJI’s ActiveTrack technology, to also make this one of the best bang-for-the-buck follow me drones that there are.
With a 48MP 1/2-inch CMOS sensor camera and 4K video supported by a 3-axis gimbal, this is a brilliant option for anyone looking to take premium quality photos and videos without having to spend an arm and a leg.
The Autel EVO is rugged, withstanding stronger winds and even the occasional drizzle of rain.
- Flight Time: ~30 minutes
- Charge Time: ~210 minutes
- Range: 7050m / 4.4 miles
- Remote Controller: WiFi 2.4GHz (included in the set)
- Camera: 3-axis gimbal 4K 60fps camera with 12MP
- Live Video Transmission Range: 7000m / 4.3 miles
- Weight: 863g / 1.9lbs
- Carry Capacity: N/A
- Working Temperature: 0°C ~ 40°C
- Rated for outdoor use
Not to be outdone by DJI, the drone juggernaut’s biggest rival, Autel Robotics, also came up with their own obstacle avoiding drone in the form of the EVO.
The EVO is indeed one of the few drones that’s out to play head-on with the likes of the Mavic 2. It has the same long flight time (30 minutes), a pretty impressive range (7 km), and autonomous flight modes as the DJI version.
But what it has going on for it is its ruggedness. It’s a weather-resistant powerhouse.
Even with its sturdiness, however, it still has a robust Obstacle Avoidance System that further acts as an insurance policy against collisions.
The EVO has obstacle detection sensors on its front and back, as well as on its underside. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any along its sides, leaving it particularly vulnerable to those areas.
What makes the EVO’s collision avoidance system particularly powerful is that it doesn’t just rely on infrared sensors. It actually uses cameras to “see” the environment.
The front sensors of the EVO are composed of two binocular-vision cameras, which creates a 3D mapping of its surroundings. It then continually calculates an optimal flight path while it operates, looking for the best way to avoid obstacles.
The bottom sensors of the EVO are even more robust, with a pair of sonic sensors and a pair of vision cameras. Not only do they make a landing on uneven surfaces safe, but the cameras also capture reference footage of the landing ground. Then, when you initiate the EVO’s Return to Home feature, it will know precisely where to land with fantastic accuracy.
The rear protection of the EVO isn’t as sophisticated, with just a single infrared sensor to help detect obstacles.
The same vision cameras used in obstacle avoidance also powers its visual recognition technology, Dynamic Track. It’s a pretty accurate way to have the drone follow you around.
While the Autel EVO lacks obstacle avoidance in all directions, it’s still a pretty incredible piece of tech.
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This is a children’s drone that gives you many innovative ways to control it. One of the most exciting its hand control feature.
- Flight Time: 8 minutes
- Range: 50m
- Weight: 72g
It may come as a surprise to know that obstacle avoidance technology isn’t solely reserved for advanced drones. Now, even toy drones can have them.
Just take a look at the Snaptain SP300.
You can use your hands to “push” and “bounce around” the SP300 and make it fly in a particular direction, without actually touching it. You can also launch it by hand, simply by tossing it in the air.
This is made possible by the infrared sensors equipped on the drone, which is technically a form of obstacle avoidance. It’s merely steering clear of your hand, which the SP300 considers an obstruction.
The feature makes the SP300 one of the safest toy drones for children. It works so well, actually, that you’ll be hard-pressed to catch the drone with your hand since it’s always zooming away from you.
So how do you get it to stop? Well, it also has a mini controller, which will land and launch the SP300 with the push of a button. You can also choose to use the physical joystick controller to maneuver it the traditional way, perfect for experienced pilots.
Then you have the equally innovative G-Sensor hand controller. It’s a device that attaches to your wrist and your index finger. You then make hand and finger gestures to fly the SP300 drone around as a Jedi would. It’s something that you need to experience to get a sense of.
Apart from these flight options, you get a basic yet durable drone with LED lights and the ability to do 3D stunts. With 8 minutes of flight time, it’s pretty average at best.
But the Snaptain SP300 shows that obstacle avoidance technology is actually a great addition to make toy drones that much safer.
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This drone is certainly packed to the brim with exciting technology, including obstacle avoidance.
- Flight Time: 28 minutes
- Camera Resolution: 4K UHD
- Sensor Size: 1/2.3 inch CMOS
- Frame Rate: 30 fps and 60 fps
- Gimbal: 3-axis with 90-degree adjustable angle
- Weight: 890g
The Walkera Vitus 320 is a powerful, high-end photography drone from a manufacturer that’s most known for its racing drones.
The camera used by this drone is a beefy 12-megapixel camera that has a 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor and can capture video up to 4K HD resolution. It’s plenty powerful and produces stunning images at par with the best camera drones out there. The 3-axis gimbal also helps stabilizes footage shot using the Vitus 320.
Another great feature of the Vitus 320 is its slew of flight features, specifically its Obstacle Avoidance System. The drone can detect obstacles in three directions – front plus its two sides. Sadly, its rear is left unprotected, but it shouldn’t matter as long as you don’t fly backward.
The Vitus 320 uses a combination of traditional Infrared sensors with high-precision Time of Flight sensors. This allows it to generate a 3D depth map of its surroundings quickly, even it’s flying at high speeds.
The result is that the Vitus 320 can detect obstacles at up to 5 meters away mid-flight. When it does, it will gradually slow down to prevent a sudden impact with the obstruction.
Apart from these sensors, the drone also has infrared and optical flow sensors on its underside. By taking images rapidly, it can use that information to hover precisely in place, even without a GPS signal. This enables the Vitus 320 to maintain its position indoors.
Another standout feature of the Vitus 320 includes its Follow Me feature, which uses its own visual recognition tech to track subjects. This autonomous flight mode is complemented excellently by its obstacle avoidance system.
Overall, the Walkera Vitus 320 is a smart and able photography drone. The robust obstacle avoidance system makes it even safer to fly and take photos with.
The Force1 Scoot is one of the cheapest drones ever to have obstacle avoidance. In fact, that’s almost all it has to depend on.
- Flight Time: 6 minutes
- Range: N/A
- Obstacle Avoidance Sensors: infrared
The Scoot literally relies on obstacle avoidance in order to fly.
This is because the Scoot is entirely operated by hand. Yup, there’s no joystick controllers, save for a 1-Key Remote Controller to launch and land the drone with one button. But even that is unnecessary to fly this drone properly.
How it works is pretty simple. The Scoot is equipped with 360-degree infrared sensors around its body, which allows it to sense any obstacles in all directions. Whenever the drone detects an obstruction, it will automatically fly in the opposite direction.
So, to direct the Scoot, simply “push” it with your palm. But before you can do, the obstacle sensors will kick in and make it fly away from you. In essence, it’s like bouncing the drone around without touching it. It’s actually fun to play drone “ping pong” with the Scoot!
This makes the Scoot one of the safest drones you can have your kids play. It will take an effort on your part to actually make the drone crash. Even if it does, a flexible outer cage protects it that can absorb the impact, so the internal components are safe from damage.
The drone has a shorter 6 minute flight time, which is a shame since it’s so fun to use. It’s rechargeable via USB, so no spare batteries here, sorry.
But hey, this drone is cheap enough that you can buy quite a few of them, so you can extend your fun times.
The Force1 Scoot is one drone that gives a new way to utilize obstacle avoidance technology. Who knew a safety feature could be so enjoyable?
The DJI Mavic Air is an advanced smart drone that’s hiding in a small, compact frame.
- Follow Me Method: visual recognition using DJI ActiveTrack
- Flight Time: 21 minutes
- Camera: 4K video at 30 fps, with support for 32 MB panoramas and HDR photos
- Weight: 15.16 ounces
The Mavic Air is one of DJI’s more compact consumer drones. It takes the power of the Mavic Pro and combines it with the smaller frame of the Spark to produce something along the middle.
Indeed, it inherits some of the more fantastic tech of others in the Mavic series. One of them happened to be the obstacle avoidance system.
The Mavic Air uses a 3-Directional Environment Sensing system that can detect obstacles in its front and back, as well as on its underside. This is part of the drone’s bigger FlightAutonomy 2.0 system, which controls its smart flight capabilities through a collection of sensors and algorithms.
The way the system works is similar to how it is with the Mavic 2. It uses Visual Intertial Odometry tech to detect the drone’s surroundings via visual camera information and inertial sensors. The data is then sent to powerful internal processors.
In other words, it gives the Mavic Air an accurate picture of where it is going. It can do this even when the drone is flying up to 8 m/s, and can detect obstacles 20 meters away.
When it does sense an obstruction, then the Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS) kicks in. It will attempt to create and execute a flight path to avoid the obstacle automatically.
When you’re manually flying the Mavic Air, this works exceptionally well. It’s like the drone has a life of its own. In case it can’t calculate a safe path (for example, if it encounters a large wall), then it will just hover in place.
Aside from its front and rear sensors, it’s also equipped with a downwards sensor. This acts more as a stabilization feature, which allows the Mavic Air to hold its position even without a GPS signal.
The Mavic Air’s obstacle avoidance system is the perfect safety net for the many autonomous flight modes this drone has. These include the visual tracking mode ActiveTrack and TapFly.