Hands on with the DJI Dock

It is one thing watching a video of the DJI Dock at work, or reading what it can do.

But physically laying your eyes on one and watching up close the work that the engineers at the leading commercial drone manufacturer put into the drone-in-a-box system; one gets a real appreciation of the game-changing capabilities and opportunities that X-Bot systems – not least the DJI Dock – have brought to various industrial applications.

And at Rocketmine, the drone-based remote sensing and related industries wing of RocketDNA, they are really looking forward to establish drone nests around their clients’ premises, so they can hit the ground running.

Rocketmine might have been joined by a few other companies in bringing the DJI Dock onto the African shores, but they are on their own; at least in South Africa and Australia; when it comes to flaunting the regulatory greenlight to commercially operate the system.

“Following our very recent approval for our ‘drone-in-a-box’ solution in Australia, we are very pleased to have attained the equivalent in South Africa, where we have a significant footprint of tier-1 and tier-2 customers and expect customer demand for the solution,” said RocketDNA CEO Christopher Clark in September when their licence came through.

“The process has been arduous. However, it now uniquely positions the business in many ways. We expect similar use cases to Australia in mining and uniquely in South Africa, providing security intelligence for mines against theft who we already service in South Africa using traditional drones, as well as the agriculture sector.

“There is also a huge opportunity to develop new autonomous drone-based use cases around safer and more sustainable work environments, keeping people out of dangerous environments through monitoring intelligence which spans multiple existing and new verticals.”

They have not wasted time getting their hands dirty with the new machine too; Rocketmine prepared well by sending three of their pilots to be trained for the Dock in China – the home of DJI – not only to fly it, but to maintain it and take care of niggling issues on the go should they arise.

The company will be seconding more pilots for training as the number of local docks increase; but focus has also been cultivated into getting their clients and wider industry stakeholders acquainted with the dock and what it can do.

“Right now, we are on a familiarisation phase of X-bot solutions with our clients,” explained Camron Pfafferott, RocketDNA’s Managing Executive; Africa.

“What we are showcasing, before we take the dock into the field, is the plethora of opportunities and solutions that it can offer for various industrial applications. Aside from the aviation regulators, we have hosted stakeholders from industries that include security, mining and construction; agriculture; survey and mapping; and many others where the X-bot system can have a home.”

Such industries also include energy too; and Pfafferott went on to reveal that they have actually flown the new dock over a solar farm, where it inspected solar panels to check whether all the cells were still working, and if not, which ones were dead.

As further explained by Ajay Harduth, Rockemine’s Director of Operations, all these operations are possible, because the DJI’s docking drone – the DJI M30 Dock, is literally a DJI M30 drone with the added arrogance of symbiosis with the dock.

The dock is home for the M30 Dock drone – it is where it returns after a mission, where its recharges (and fast two, as the dock as fast-charging capacities), and where it lies in wait before further instructions for deployment to various missions.

“All the specifications you get on the normal M30 drone are also found on the M30 Dock,” Harduth said.

“However, the huge difference is that, while drone regulations require operators to keep their normal M30 always within physical sight of the pilot while it is in the air, the M30 Dock can operate without a pilot present.”

And this, according to Rocketmine, is the great advantage of the X-bot solution that they are bringing to clients, at least those based in South Africa and Australia for now.

“With the X-bot system, a drone can fly beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight,” Harduth said.

“Actually, the pilot does not need to be there at all. They can be in a control room in another part of the world, and still be able to take a drone on a flight mission safely and effectively.

The way it works is that the Dock is transported to a site that needs drone services, get set setup and taken online, whereupon a pilot in a control room hundreds of kilometres away can then connect with the drone and get it to work.

And they do have that control room at Rocketmine’s Johannesburg headquarters, from where an operator can control up to five drone boxes.

“While it is true that one pilot can operate five drone boxes, the company’s licence is for the pilot to be in control of one drone box at a time,” explained Harduth.

“A pilot cannot be operating more than one box at a time.”

Which is just as well, because – if the sheer number of monitors Rocketmine has in that command centre for just one drone dock are the standard everywhere – then running more than one dock at a time would surely create pandemonium in the control room.

Included on the monitors is a map of the area the drone will be flying (which will also show the no-fly zones for the machine); the first-person view of the data being collected by the drone and what the camera is seeing, information about the flight path, information about the physical state of the drone as fed by the dock, information about the weather conditions; pop-up information about the area being covered, or warnings about surroundings; or that the drone is reaching maximum altitude.

It’s ready...

See; you get dizzy just enumerating the sheer amount of data on the monitors

And that is without even mentioning the actual remote controls for the drone, which should always be on standby, in case they come in handy should emergency measures be needed.

Besides, the pilot’s hands are also full having to monitor the data being collected by the drone while in the air. For this, Rocketmine have taken it upon themselves to establish a training school that goes beyond just pilot training, to actually making sure that their pilots understand at least the basics of the industries their drones are serving, so they understand what data to gather and how to collect it.

“On linear data capture missions, the drone can travel for up to ten kilometres; otherwise, it has to operate within a radius of five kilometres; and the data it collects can be streamed live to stakeholders just as it is being viewed on the operator’s desk.

“Aside from the obvious advantage of automated remote operations, the dock can fly on missions on demand and can also be programmed to fly on scheduled missions. For security operations, the drone can be integrated with other video management systems on premises, which will enable it to deploy automatically as soon as movement is detected.”

Which is a really great feature for the dock to possess, because it ensures the safety of security personnel through a visual forewarning of what to expect on the ground, instead of having to walk into a potentially dangerous situation blind.

Rocketmine are dreaming of stationing at least one drone box at the premises of each and every of their clients, so they are available on demand at all hours of the day, regardless of where the premises are located.

“Having already earned our Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) as certified and annually verified for safe flying missions by the Flight Safety Foundation, and having been approved by the civil aviation authority, we feel really proud that – through the DJI Dock – we can be there for our clients 24/7, and can offer them autonomous and remote drone-based services with minimum of fuss,” Pfafferott said.


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