Autel Robotics recently released their new offering to the foldable consumer drone market, the Autel Robotics EVO. Leading the US team is Vice President Jeff Powell, who has established Autel Robotics as the leader in customer service, a major differentiator in the consumer drone industry. We caught Jeff following EVO’s launch to find out a bit more about Autel Robotics, the EVO and what makes this serious contender for a piece of the drone market tick.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, what got you into a professional career in drone robotics?
A call from a colleague, asking me to join him as they were launching a new UAV product in the US. It was a great transition for me and my family, and has opened up a truly amazing new industry to me. I have a strong operations/ and manufacturing background and really have enjoyed working through the set up and improvements of the US operations.
Autel Robotics grew out of Autel Intelligence, leader in the Chinese automotive scan tools market. What was the logic driving the horizontal expansion into Autel’s consumer drone market?
At the time, with autonomous driving and obstacle avoidance being developed for automotive industry as well as the drone business, it seems like a likely bridge for the technical capabilities of our teams. Our owner has always had a passion for technology. Autel Intelligence is the leader in Automotive diagnostic tools. And our mission at Autel Robotics is to do the same in the sUAS market.
In January 2016 Autel Robotics launched the X-Star Series. Tell us a bit about the first Autel Robotics drone release.
The X-Star Premium & X-Star models became known for their durability and superior image quality. The X-Star Premium became one of the highest rated drones on Amazon.com. Backed with our 7-day-a-week customer support, our customers could talk to real drone pilots to get the most from their drone.
Will the X-Star range be revisited?
As the technology advances we are able to pack more power and intelligence into a smaller package. With the launch of EVO, taking a drone with you doesn’t require lugging a larger system around. We will, of course, continue to support and warranty X-Star series of drone.
You’ve just launched the new Autel Robotics EVO just last month – can you describe in a nutshell what it is and what it does?
The EVO is our first folding drone, allowing it to take up a smaller footprint for storage, making it easier to take it with you anywhere. With a 30-minute flight time and a 7km range (4.3 miles) EVO can fly farther and longer. An on board advanced computer vision system allows the drone to see and detects obstacles from the front, bottom and rear. EVO can even perform path planning to maneuverer around objects.
What makes the EVO stand out from the foldable drone crowd?
With a 4k 60fps camera on a 3-axis gimbal using real-glass optics and utilizing the Ambarella H2 image processor, EVO captures superior image quality with High Dynamic Range – it may even be the quietest drone on the market at this size.
The EVO differs from the Mavic Pro in that it has rear-facing IR sensors – what does this mean for its obstacle avoidance abilities?
With a Near IR sensor built into the rear of the aircraft, EVO can fly backwards and still keep itself protected from obstacles.
The EVO is touted not only as a consumer photography drone but also a 3D mapping drone. Can you tell us why and how? Is the EVO targeted at the professional survey market as well as the consumer market?
Our customers use drones for everything. One of the biggest request was for 3D mapping missions. We wanted to make it easier to fly a waypoint mission. Currently, most drones have to use a third-party application to plan a mission for 3D mapping. EVO will have built-in templated waypoint missions that allow you to create a mission faster, and EVO will do the rest. Evo will be capable of positioning the camera at the optimal angle and taking 12-megapixel images at the right intervals for proper coverage. Then, you can import the image sequence into third-party software to render out a 3D model.
Are there other abilities made possible by the addition of this technology?
The Advanced Computer Vision systems offer more features like Dynamic Track, this allows a user to draw a box around an object and the EVO will autonomously follow. Viewpoint allows the pilot to touch an area on their camera view and the EVO will calculate the distance and move to that location. There are two new auto landing features that utilize the computer vision as well. Precision Landing will tell EVO to take reference images of the take-off zone and use these images when the EVO is returning to home; giving it pinpoint precision when landing in tight spaces. And Accurate Land can sense if the EVO is trying to land on an un-level surface.
At CES2018 there were multiple models of the EVO with different cameras. Has the first release camera yet been decided – can you let our readers in on this?
We like to show prototypes during CES to let attendees know what we are working on. EVO has launched with a the standard 4k 60fps 1/ 2.3 Sony Exmor sensor. We will release more information on our website, AutelRobotics.com about our product road map once EVO arrives.
Will the camera be removable such as on the X-Star, and can the camera be swapped for other models?
With the EVO’s small size it does not support a removable camera.
It appears that the EVO outdoes the Mavic Air with 60fps compared to 30fps. Are there any other favourable comparisons?
EVO has a longer flight time at 30 minutes and a range of 4.3 miles with superior image quality that can capture a larger dynamic range in your photos and videos. Autel Robotics also offers best-in-class customer service, based in the U.S. with knowledgeable support agents that are all Part-107 certified.
Will there be more than one EVO model, and can you expand on this?
Autel Robotics is focused on creating quality products that are reliable and built to last. This means we don’t rush out development process to ensure that our products will work when you need them the most.
We are excited about the EVO launch – and it looks to be a real contender up against DJI’s Mavic Series. Do you foresee supply meeting demand?
The EVO is stirring up a lot of excitement within the drone community, and we are excited about its release. We were determined to get this product as close to perfect as possible, and we are confident we have achieved that goal.
Anything else you can share with our readers – where is Autel Robotics headed?
Thank you to all the X-Star pilots for supporting our first product. As we close in a release date we want to remind everyone that we are building a drone that can last and be reliable for you while on the job. Our X-Star model has been around for 2 years and is still flying strong, we still continue to support and service these units for our community and will do so for as long as possible. Autel Robotics is dedicated to becoming a leader in the drone industry and we have an exciting road ahead of us.
About Jeff Powell
In August 2016, Jeff took over leadership for the US division of Autel Robotics, overseeing Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources, Technical support, Logistics, Planning, Creative and Finance. In that time, he has established for Autel Robotics an outstanding reputation for customer service, maintaining a 95% customer satisfaction rating, and 4.7 stars on Amazon.