CES this year didn’t really have a great representation of new drones and the drone industry.
That’s not to say we didn’t get a surprise though, as we did get introduced to Autel’s newest Enterprise system – the EVO Max 4T, and it’s quite the Thermal Drone System indeed.
Autel is currently taking pre-orders of the Evo Max 4T if you’re so inclined.
As we’re all aware, DJI is the market leader. We can’t ever discount Autel though, as it, out of everyone else, keeps DJI on its toes.
Autel has been duking it out with DJI for years now and as we can see with the Max 4T, DJI should be taking close notice.
Autel has given us a few reasons to be looking their way. They are one of the first and still one of the only companies that have 8K capable systems.
The Nano Lite+ is a direct competitor to DJI’s Mini 3 and to be frank, the differences between them are so minute that it really comes down to personal preference as to which one you choose.
Although they are so similar, one is a little superior to the other in my opinion. Will we see that in such a direct comparison as that, with the new Autel Evo Max 4T and the DJI Mavic 3T, it’s hard to say.
Both are fantastic systems that any pilot would be proud to have in their hanger.
Let’s take a deep dive into the Autel Evo Max 4T, and maybe by the time we’re done you can make that choice as to which may be better suited to you.
There is one major factor that separates these two systems, and it may not bother you as much as you think by the time we’re through. Of course, that difference is the price. So, we might as well start there.
The Autel Evo Max 4T is currently priced at $8,999.00 for the basic package, whereas the DJI Mavic 3T starts at $5,780.00 for its basic package. Both go up from there.
So, right out of the gate, there’s that pricing difference that separates the two systems from one another.
When we look around for other comparable systems, we can find the Parrot Anafi USA, with its base version starting at $7,000.00 and going up from there.
No matter which one we’re looking at, they do seem to all fall into the same general area.
This leaves us with the question: is there enough difference to warrant the additional cost from model to model?
Looking at it from just the current known pricing, you may be thinking, “Well, I am going with the less expensive one.”
You may want to read further, though, before deciding just yet, as the EVO Max 4T may just be worth that extra cost after all, dependent on your needs.
Whenever looking to purchase any drone system, your needs should always be at the forefront of your mind as well as the potential for growth.
When dealing with the more advanced Enterprise Systems, it is a sizable investment that has to fit your current needs as well as any possible future needs.
Here we’re dealing with a system that is unique in the industry for its purpose – infrared thermography. In order to know if we’re getting our full value, we should know a bit more about the application.
Next, we’ll go over the basics of Thermography and what it is.
Before we go any further, we should point out what thermal imaging is and why it’s different from traditional photography.
Infrared thermography is the process of acquisition and analysis of thermal information from noncontact thermal imaging devices.
It works by detecting the heat energy being radiated by the objects and requires no light.
So pretty much the exact opposite of traditional photography, where we use light to create an image.
For those out there who may have never seen a thermal image, the darker areas are those that radiate less thermal radiation, and generally means that those areas of the target are cooler.
Brighter means the opposite – more radiation and a possibly warmer target.
Simply knowing how to take a thermal image won’t get you very far. You must be able to analyze the image and understand the implications of what you see.
Having knowledge of these other subject areas is necessary to understand what the Thermogram is showing you, such as Camera Handling, Thermal Science, Radiation Science, and Analysis Techniques.
There are certification and training programs available out there that teach these specific areas related directly to Thermal Imaging and I highly recommend anyone interested in Infrared Thermography look into such a program, so they understand the camera system fully.
Because we’re not dealing with a traditional camera, camera handling is must-have knowledge with Thermal systems.
This is where FORD comes in, and no not the truck/car company. F.O.R.D or Focus, Range, and Distance.
- With thermal cameras, some parameters have to be known before scanning the object and have to be set in the camera.
Focus is the easiest of these, as UAS thermal cameras have a fixed optical focus which can be degraded by flying too high, too fast, or yawing too aggressively.
Simply not doing these things will keep the object in focus.
- When we reference Range here, we don’t mean it as a measure of distances but as a measure of temperatures.
It covers the intervals of temperatures the detector can measure without going into saturation.
- Distance is just what it sounds like and is the distance the detector is from the object being scanned.
These parameters need to be entered into the camera prior to taking the scan or the thermogram produced will be out of focus and won’t be able to be tuned in post.
We could go on and on and on some more here for sure. There’s a lot to cover, and it can get complicated. Don’t even get me started on Emissivity; you’ll never get me to stop.
You get the idea. Thermal cameras are not like point-and-shoot cameras, and knowledge of how to use and interpret the collected data is necessary for their operation.
This brings us to a big difference between the Autel Max 4T and the DJI Mavic 3T or any other current Thermal Drone System.
Built-in Range Finder
If there were only one feature alone that separates the Autel EVO Max 4T from the DJI Mavic 3T or any others, it is the inclusion of a built-in range finder.
In one’s day-to-day drone operations, this is just not something you need, so you’ve probably never given it a thought.
When we move over to the realm of Thermal imaging, though, this one innocuous feature can be a godsend and timesaver.
We hit on the FORD process above and how Distance plays into our thermogram being in focus. This was the reason for that.
Since the distance needs to be known prior to the scan, having a Built-in Range Finder can quicken the pre-scan process.
Without it, you would need to range the aircraft and the object using a ground-based range finder and then do some math to find the distance between them.
This added feature takes much of that leg work away and speeds up that process.
The Laser Range Finder we see in the Autel EVO Max 4T has a Measurement accuracy of 3.3ft (1m) and a measuring range of 3,937ft (1,200m).
This Range Finder can certainly go the distance. Haha! I know it was bad, so I’ll try not to do it again.
Now though, you do know why such a Range finder was added, and there were rumors that the Mavic 3T was supposed to have one.
We know now since it was already released and doesn’t, that they must have abandoned the idea, where it appears Autel did not.
Flight Control Module
One of the biggest advancements we see with the new EVO Max 4T and is probably a hint of what’s to come with the EVO 4 or 3 when it gets released is the new flight control module and the added capabilities that it is able to achieve such as Anti-Jam/Anti-interference, something we have all had to deal with at one point or another.
It also provides new functionality in the form of the A-Mesh 1.0. Now, this is a completely new system that allows for drone-to-drone autonomous flight.
How that would work here in the States, where swarm operations are prohibited, I’m not so sure. Still a cool feature we haven’t seen before. Let’s look a little closer at these aspects.
Anti-Jam / Anti-Interference
As I stated above, if there was only one feature in the Autel EVO Max 4T, the Range Finder, that alone may be enough for you right there. But it’s not the only new feature.
Goodness, no, the newest Autel EVO has a new, more advanced flight control module specially designed to counter RFI, EMI, and GPS spoofing.
This is important if you are one of those flyers who’s flying in areas around powerlines, where that interference can easily lead to a crash.
Or other areas where other aircraft struggle to maintain a link due to inference, such as urban areas where there are just so many other signals and the like.
This new control system should manage well in these areas without suffering signal loss or connection.
The future is scary, isn’t it! This new feature we find in the Autel EVO Max 4T is both inspiring and terrifying, all at the same moment. With the EVO Max 4T, we are introduced to the A-Mesh 1.0 system.
Oh my gosh! What this system does, is it allows you to not only fly more than one drone at once but ties them together into a network, so they can work as a singular unit.
This is really interesting and something I would love to put to the test. However, here in the States, we have regulations against swarm operations, which is just what this would consist of.
That sort of negates everything this system does. That and one would need more than one Autel Max 4T to use this system. Still though a huge and fascinating advancement.
Here’s some of what Autel claims, though. For Beyond-Line-of-Sight Applications, multiple aircraft in the vicinity can act as a relay point to greatly improve BVLOS operations.
Another interesting point to bring up is communication nodes for increasing range. Once again, not quite sure as to how this would work.
From what it seems, there will be a future product that can work as a signal relay to expand the aircraft’s range, or that multiple aircraft when linked together can also work as a signal relay to expand range.
As Beyond Visual Line of Sight is currently prohibited without a waiver, it may be a sign of something we don’t currently know as to the regulations or a feature very few will ever get a chance to even use.
Interesting and certainly neat all the same.
That’s all really cool and all, but let’s be honest. It’s sort of gimmicky at best and pointless at worst if it’s never able to be employed in the actual field.
One of the main aspects of any flying platform is its payload. We’ve already mentioned this system comes with a piece of payload we just don’t see on anything else, the Range Finder.
Beyond that, the cameras and the EVO Max 4T really earn that Max name in this regard, being equipped with a wide-angle camera, a zoom camera, and of course, the thermal camera.
So altogether, this system has 4 different payloads built into one unit. Oh hey, maybe that’s where the 4 comes from, eh!
Not all cameras are the same, and this is where we see a step away from the other comparable models out there.
They all have these sorts of cameras, of course, but they are not all the same. Not by a long shot. We’ll take a closer look at each one below.
The Autel Evo Max 4T’s wide-angle camera is a 50mp 1/1.28″ CMOS Sensor with a Fixed F/1.9 Aperture and a DFVO of 85 degrees and is the equivalent of a 23mm lens.
Compare this to the DJI Mavic 3T, which has a 48mp 4/3″ CMOS Sensor with a Fixed F/2.8 Aperture and an 84-degree field of view and is the equivalent of a 24mm lens.
As we can see, these two cameras are very comparable to one another from a specification standpoint, with the Autel system pulling ahead by just a little.
Now if I was limited to just taking still images, there wouldn’t be much more to talk about. The specs say it all, really.
Both of these cameras are going to take very nice and very good quality shots and it really doesn’t matter which one we decide to use as the results from either will be very similar.
From a video perspective, it’s much the same as well.
The 50mp, though will retain a bit more detail due to having more pixels. The question is would you notice? No, not really.
The wide-angle camera here would really have to be up to personal preference. There’s no real advantage or disadvantage to either of them.
Both, once again, would be a great choice for a wide-angle camera, and if that was all we had here, you would have a tough choice deciding between either of them.
We’re not just looking at a single camera system on a drone, though, so let’s keep going.
The Autel EVO Max 4T Zoom Camera is impressive. When conducting dangerous flights where getting in close is a hazard, these zoom cameras can still collect the data needed without putting your aircraft at risk. And they are becoming more and more advanced each year.
Autel chose to go big on this one, with a 48mp camera and an 8K 10x Optical zoom, and an amazing 160x Hybrid Zoom. Yes, that’s right, it’s not a typo. 160x Hybrid Zoom!
Here we also find a variable Aperture of F/2.8-F/4.8. This allows for much better control of the camera itself and means it should do pretty well in low-light conditions. Here Autel is the clear winner, beating out everything else available currently. Of course, since Autel is the only company broaching 8K, they tend to dominate here.
Looking at the DJI Mavic 3T, we see there’s no comparison to be had. The Mavic 3T comes with a very nice zoom camera, don’t get me wrong. Its 12mp 56x Hybrid Zoom is impressive as well, and it maintains a decent amount of detail when fully zoomed. It just doesn’t hold up to the Autel Zoom camera found in the Evo Max 4T, which allows you to look closer than any other system out there.
It will be interesting to see just how good the quality is at those super-zoomed-in ratios. As we see with any Tele lens, even though we can go in close, the detail usually suffers immensely. So once these get into the hands of pilots out there, we’ll start to get a feel for just how good that Tele lens is.
I’ve mentioned in past articles that the industry has an unspoken standard that they require for thermal imaging. That standard is a Thermal camera with at least a 640 x 512 resolution.
Yes, there are Thermal cameras that do have even better resolutions available. They can be found in ground-based Thermal Cameras and can easily run tens of thousands of dollars or even higher. For drone-based thermal systems, though, it’s 640 x 512.
Here, for example, we can find why the Parrot Anafi USA thermal system was never really adopted by most thermal flying pilots; the Parrot Anafi USA only has a 320 x 256 resolution. This smaller resolution doesn’t make it to what has become the industry standard, and therefore most of these high-quality Anafi thermal drones never made it off of shelves.
Another aspect that makes for a good general use, all-around thermal camera is having a 13mm lens, as it’s the happy medium. You may find yourself in the exceptionally rare situation where you need a 19mm or other, but that’s not very likely to happen.
When we really want to test the mettle of a Thermal Camera, what we want to look at is the Temperature Measurement Scale the camera is able to perform within.
With the Autel Evo Max 4T, we have a scale of -20 Celsius to 550 Celsius or -4 degrees F to 1022 degrees F. Now that may seem like a lot, and it is. There shouldn’t be much of anything you would be flying around that would fall outside of these temperature ranges, not really anyway.
When we look over at the Mavic 3T, we see that Autel has beaten them out again, with their Temperature scale being just slightly less than the Autel version. It is, though, right in line with what we see across most of the other thermal drone systems. It ranges from -20 to 150 degrees Celsius or -4 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit in its High Gain mode and 0 to 500 degrees Celsius or 32 to 932 degrees Fahrenheit in Low Gain Mode.
Even though it doesn’t seem like much, it can be the difference between being able to scan something or not, so having the broadest range temperature scale sure does come in handy.
One other aspect of a thermal camera one would want to consider is the Thermal Camera’s zoom capability. Similar to the reasons for having a zoom camera at all, these are the same reasons for the equipped thermal camera having some zoom ability: you want to have a closer look at something without putting the aircraft at risk.
Having this ability with the Thermal Camera is a must. Autel offers a 16x digital zoom with the Evo Max 4T. That’s not shabby, but it probably could have been better, let’s say.
After all, the Mavic 3T offers a 28x digital zoom. As a Thermal Drone System, the primary camera is the thermal camera, so having the best attributes here is what makes or breaks the system. That being said, 16x is not bad at all since it is just now that we’re seeing these types of numbers in thermal zoom cameras.
It is also always possible that Autel may be able to increase that capability some down the line through firmware updates. Having a 28x zoom on your thermal camera does kind of give the win to DJI on this one, though. As impressive as 16x is, it doesn’t quite beat 28x, you know.
Bringing it in!
Are we anxious to get one of these birds out into the field? You bet we are. As of right now, most of what we know is supposition and no real hands-on opinions. This isn’t really new for Autel, who seems to control their upcoming product information really well compared to some others out there, wink, wink.
As a matter of fact, most of us were somewhat surprised to find the EVO Max 4T at CES, and no, I did not attend. Much of what I know about CES is the same as most – what others have shared about the event.
Unlike most drone system releases, though, we usually have a heads-up from patent filings and such rumors. There just wasn’t much of anything like that around this release.
Pre-orders are being taken now if you’re interested. The current company statement says they will start shipping in March.
Being someone who’s into thermal imaging, whenever a new system comes about, I’m interested. How the Max 4T flies is unknown, although we can imagine it to be like any other Autel. How it handles is also unknown. This ties right into flying, and just between you and me, it’s the same question.
What the finished imaging looks like from it is somewhat unknown. We have seen what they were showing at CES and, of course, the marketing material. The point I’m making is there are a lot of questions still about this system. No one can tell you if it is bad, good, or great as of yet.
What I can and will tell you is it has some things going for it, alright. It has some unique features you’re not going to find anywhere else. Its other aspects, like flight time and range and such, are right in line with what we see from other systems, and nothing there sets it apart from what we already have available.
It’s pricey. Not as pricey as some other systems, but pricey all the same. It seems very capable. It’s no secret that I am a DJI Fanboy. I love their products and find them to be of high quality and functionality, and no, I don’t get any favors from them in any way.
What’s not as well-known is I’m also an Autel Fanboy. Much like DJI, I love Autel’s offerings and have always felt comfortable trusting their products. That trust is earned, not given freely.
I still feel that if they had priced the Autel Nano Lite+ a bit differently, it would have really given the Mini 3 a much better run for its money. Between you and me, the Nano Lite+ is a little superior to the Mini 3. If some of you read through all of this article to see if I answered that, there you go.
I’m hoping that Autel didn’t do the same here with the EVO Max 4T, with such a competitor’s product being so similar at a lower cost. We’ll have to see.
We need Autel. We need them to keep at it, nipping at DJI’s heels, as they are the only ones currently able to pose any real challenge to DJI. It’s that competition that breeds advancement and new products.
From what we see with the EVO Max 4T, Autel’s doing a great job. Keep at it!
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!