When the son of one of my friends bought a Mavic Mini I thought “what a cool toy”. I would have to say that I was wrong! Sure, it can be a great toy for both big and little kids but there are applications where it can be a great tool for many professionals. And now that DJI has released the Mini 2 as an improved replacement for Mavic Mini it can be a seriously useful professional tool!
In Canada UAVs with a weight less than 250 grams a not regulated in the same way that heavier UAVs are. The benefits to using these lightweight UAVs are:
- The UAV does not need to be registered for commercial operations.
- The operator does not require a license to use it commercially
- There are no limits on where you can operate the UAV – you just have to do so safely.
In the US if it is a commercial operation these lightweight UAV’s are treated in the same way as those weighing more than 250 grams – a Part 107 certification is required. This really limits the benefits of using the Mavic Mini and Mini 2.
I have been using a Phantom 4 Pro for the last couple of years in the forest industry. I have primary used it to save myself a lot of walking by visually assessing young plantations with the live video feed and by capturing photos. To find out if the Mini 2 would also be satisfactory for this work I contacted Ron Harper with UAV Tower Innovations to ask him what he thought of the quality of the imagery captured with the Mini 2. He sent me the photos below so I could make my own assessment.
You can see for yourself in the photos above the camera is surprisingly good. The photo was captured from about 20 feet away from the tower. When I zoomed in on the photo, I could read the 1” high writing on the tags attached to the cables. In my mind this is plenty good!
I have also used the Phantom 4 Pro for mapping missions. To plan and execute mapping missions you need software such as Pix4D or DroneDeploy. The issue with the Mavic Mini and Mini 2 is that software for planning these mapping missions does not support the use of these UAVs. However, with some searching I found two options:
- Dronelink fully supports the Mavic Mini and Mini 2 including navigation to Waypoints necessary for a mapping mission. Dronelink is also great for cinematography.
- SPEXI also provides support for the Mavic Mini and Mini 2. I found SPEXI provides a more intutative system for mission planning.
However, unlike most other UAV’s that are used for mapping missions DJI does not allow the waypoints to be uploaded and saved onboard the UAV. The navigation to the waypoints is provided by the app on your mobile device with “stick control” inputs sent to the UAV continuously. Consequently, a good data link is must be maintained between the mobile device (via the controller) and UAV. If the link fails, the mapping mission is aborted. The link between the controller and the UAV is much more reliable with the Mini 2 as DJI is now using the OcuSync 2.0 transmission system. This has improved the range for the Mini 2 to 10 kilometers under ideal conditions – versus only 4 km its predecessor the Mavic Mini. However, in order to comply with regulations, you must be able to see the UAV at all times with the naked eye. This limits the practical range to about 500 or 600m under ideal conditions.
There are some challenges that come with using the Mini 2 for commercial work:
- No obstacle avoidance – this is one of the things that is great feature in many other UAVs. I have been surprised at just how well it works in the very challenging environments that I have usually flown the Phantom 4 in.
- The camera has a smaller sensor – this reduces the dynamic range within images. However, for the majority of the work I do the image quality will still get the job done.
- Not as stable in high winds – although the Mini 2 can operate in winds up to 38 Km/hour it is not as stable as heavier UAVs. Consequently the image quality may suffer.
There are a few benefits I love about the Mini 2 that I don’t get with a Phantom 4:
- Low temperature operations are easier with the Mini 2 as I can keep it warm under my jacket. This is not so easy with the Phantom. In this video you can see the Mini 2 operating at -8 °C.
- The batteries can be charged on the go with a USB charger. This allows the batteries to be charged in my backpack.
- Charges the phone when connected to the controller.
- Find My Drone Feature – in the event you have to perform an emergency landing you can activate this feature to get the lights to flash and beep. As it is such a small UAV this could be essential to find it in the brush.
- Photo Auto Sync – as photos and video are captured, they are automatically uploaded to your phone. I often want to review photos after the UAV is back on the ground. This certainly makes the workflow more efficient.
- Much easier to hand launch and retrieve. This is great in forested environments where good locations for takeoff and landing can be hard to find. I would still recommend eye protection as a minimum.
At $559 USD for the Mini 2 fly more combo, there is no reason that this UAV cannot be part of what is considered essential equipment for many field professionals. If I had to choose between the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mini 2 for a day in the woods I would almost always choose the Mini 2 as I can have it with me at all times. The UAV I have with me is always better than the one that I left in the truck or the office!
Brian Saunders, RPF