During the development of the recently introduced DJI Mini 3 Pro, the engineers wanted to add as many new features as possible, but the drone had to stay under 250 grams. In this article, DJI’s Christopher Tuazon explains how they did it. Christopher spoke to one of the members of the design team, who was already involved in the development of the original Mavic Mini in 2018.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is the latest and most powerful drone in our Mini series, incorporating the industry’s best technology into the smallest and most secure format. From the beginning, the Mini series has amazed our customers by delivering DJI quality in a handheld device, and with the Mini 3 Pro, our engineers have done it again.
How did DJI keep the Mini 3 Pro under 250 grams?
I sat down with one of our product managers, Lee, to discuss how his team approached the design process of the Mini 3 Pro given the high expectations. He described the challenge of building new capabilities when every gram and millimeter counts; how new ideas solve problems created by previous incremental design choices; and how his team had to forget everything they knew about using drones to design for customers who had their own ideas about what they wanted from DJI’s next Mini.
A New Beginning for the DJI Mini Series
To best understand how we got to the DJI Mini 3 Pro, it’s important to go back to why DJI made the Mini series of drones in the first place. Lee joined the product team tasked with creating the Mini Series in 2018. At that time, important decisions were made worldwide regarding regulations and weight categories.
“Eventually, many Countries adopted a weight of 250 grams as the dividing line for drones that were considered the safest,” Lee said. “This line gave us a clear starting point: make a drone of 249 grams or lighter.”
This premise was certainly a challenge, given that no DJI drone of this weight existed before. No one knew whether such a small drone could perform well. But Lee and his team took this challenge as an opportunity to provide the drone community with a product that complies with these new laws.
At the time, the portability of drones was also becoming a priority, so the team was able to kill two birds with one stone: extreme portability and compliance with upcoming regulations – all while retaining all the capabilities customers expect from a DJI drone.
Four years and three DJI Mini models later, these goals have remained the same, but the bar has been raised.
Taking on challenges with fresh perspectives
Because a weight restriction marks a clear red line in the development of a Mini product, any new feature or modification poses the risk of crossing the red line. Or in Lee’s words, “We walked an unfamiliar path, to begin with, and the only way forward was further in.”
The product development was divided into separate teams, with each team focusing on a specific aspect of the drone, such as the propulsion, camera system, and obstacle sensors. Whenever a team came up with a new part design, they had to see how it would affect other part designs. Therefore, the development process was “a constant state of mutual checking and balancing to find the optimal solution,” said Lee. “This whole process is a vivid example of our systems engineering and teamwork.”
A perfect example of this balancing act was the development of the completely redesigned obstacle detection system, with rear-facing sensors positioned on the front of the drone for the first time. This position ultimately emerged as the best solution to a range of different challenges.
To reduce power consumption, the team looked for ways to replace an internal cooling fan. The idea was to direct the airflow from the rear propellers through the newly designed arms through a series of holes in the rear.
But this new cooling solution presented a new problem: the new propeller and arm structure would prevent the rear-facing sensors from seeing the environment unobstructed. Placing the propellers higher would give the sensors an unobstructed view, but that would reduce the airflow through the holes, which in turn would have a negative impact on battery life. So the problems piled up.
After several rounds of discussions and redesigns, a completely different idea emerged: why not place the rear-facing sensors toward the front of the drone? It had never been done before, but the team found that it worked perfectly.
“We suddenly found that all the problems were solved after we put the sensors up front,” Lee said. “Sometimes we are trapped in our own obsessions or existing perceptions when it comes to design. But a new understanding and new ideas can be the key to breaking through these kinds of bottlenecks.”
Consider all drone users
The DJI Mini Series made flying a drone easier than ever before, an aspect that Lee and the team are proud of. At the same time, they realized they had to consider an increasing number of customer needs that they hadn’t thought of before.
“Before, it wasn’t that hard to find the general direction of the product. Product managers are users themselves, so if a new drone met their needs, it was usually geared towards whatever the drone community wanted. But as the community grew, we found that there was a gap between our perception of how people use a drone and how they actually use one.”
Lee and his colleagues like to take their drones with them for travel videos, tracking next to their cars and capturing the landscape around them. But they realized that other users want to do very different things. Parents want to make videos of their children. Retired people see drone photography as an extension of ordinary photography. Young users want to create clips and immediately publish them on social media. To close these gaps, the team had to roll up its sleeves.
“We have been given the opportunity to build a system that allows us to communicate with users. We get feedback through questionnaires, collect user scenarios and satisfaction through surveys, and conduct valuable conversations at store locations and after-sales interactions. All of this information helps us see if the original design intent and actual user behavior are consistent.”
This feedback enabled Lee and his team to deliver a drone that families can easily take on a weekend trip, a drone with a camera that photographers can rely on to realize their vision, and a drone that allows social media content creators to share unique perspectives in high-quality vertical shots.
And above all, a drone that raises the bar on what anyone can create. And that’s the essence of what the ‘Pro’ in DJI Mini 3 Pro means.
“Just because a Mini-drone is portable and compliant doesn’t make it an entry-level model. DJI Mini 3 Pro represents the most power and versatility we can currently pack in a drone that weighs less than 250 grams. It is the highest quality and most advanced drone in the safest consumer drone category.”
DJI Mini 3 Pro: the product of our work
During our discussion, we often heard about the large amount of time Lee spent with his colleagues. But for his team, this was the only way Mini 3 Pro became possible.
“The close collaboration between departments is of great importance to our team. Making products with DJI technology and product capabilities is great, but we can also make each other better in the process of solving challenges and breaking new ground with each new project. This is the most important point for us.”
And with that, Lee, his teammates, and DJI are proud to bring you DJI Mini 3 Pro. And wherever you go, we hope you fly mini, create big.
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