The Max 4T is a high-end drone with tools for industry and first responders, notably a triple-lens camera for wide, telephoto, and thermal imaging.
Images, and the devices that capture them, are my focus. I've covered cameras at PCMag for the past 10 years, which has given me a front row seat for the DSLR to mirrorless transition, the smartphone camera revolution, and the mainstream adoption of drones for aerial imaging. You can find me on Instagram @jamespfisher. Drone Camera For Photography
Camera drones have made the skies a virtual playground for creators. For a few hundred dollars, a photographer or vlogger can pick up a quality quadcopter for aerial shots. Before drones went mainstream you'd have to take your self and your camera up into a helicopter, putting life and limb at risk, not to mention the cost of flight time.
But drones are good for more than just snapping pretty pictures. Autel, one of a handful of makers producing high-quality UAVs for the consumer market, has long supported industry and first responders. Its latest model, on display today at CES, is pointed right at that market too. The Autel EVO Max 4T is built for industry, first responders, and other technical applications—it's not a cinema drone.
The EVO Max 4T sports a folding design, so it's not as big a deal to store or transport when compared to industrial drones like the six-rotor DJI Matrice series. There's some benefit there for first responders who may want to keep one in a response vehicle, as an example. And even though the drone is pretty small—about 1.5 feet from motor to motor and 3.3 pounds—its nose-mounted camera module includes three discrete lenses.
Each lens does something a little different. The Wide Camera offers 50MP resolution and 4K30 video support, with image processing tuned to prioritize detail in dim light, and a very high sensitivity (ISO 64000) capability if you want it. A Moonlight photo mode is there if you prefer a lower noise and wider dynamic range look for photos.
The Zoom camera is right next door. It supports 8K video with an angle of view that's 10 times tighter than what the Wide camera sees. When paired with a digital zoom (160x), Autel says the drone is capable of resolving clear detail with a 1.24-mile object distance. It's a good fit for bridge and tower inspections, as well as search-and-rescue.
The Thermal camera represents the final lens. It includes a 640-by-512 (0.3MP) thermal sensor with support for 30fps recording and up to 16x digital zoom. Thermal cameras are handy for finding warm objects from the air, an obvious use case for rescue teams, and is also something you can use for inspections and energy use audits. A thermal camera will tell you if there's need to replace your home's windows to cut down your heating bill.
All three lenses are integrated into the same gimbal-mounted chassis. The three-axis stabilizer is a proven piece of tech that delivers steady video from the air. The Max 4T also has a Laser Rangefinder with a three-quarter-mile range. It's able to tell you the distance between the drone and an object, a feature that's useful for industrial inspectors and surveyors.
The compact build also comes in handy for use in crowded environments. If you're using the drone to search for a missing hiker in the deep woods, all-around obstacle avoidance comes in handy. The Max 4T surrounds itself with obstacle sensors and is able to map environments and autonomously navigate around obstructions.
You can also take the drone up in tough weather, a must-have feature for emergency situations. The Max 4T is IP43 rated for use in rainy weather, and can handle 27mph winds, and can fly at up to 23,000 feet above sea level. A 12.4-mile transmission range, 42-minute battery, and pre-planned mission capabilities round things out.
Autel is also paying attention to radio interference issues. Drones are often used to inspect cellular towers, but basic models are thrown off by the ultra-powerful transponders that power our 5G networks. The SkyLink 3.0 remote system supports four bands, AES-256 encryption, and uses six antennas to keep a steady signal between drone and remote.
Multi-drone operators will want to try out the A-Mesh feature too. Multiple EVO Max 4T aircraft come together to form a mesh network. The drones talk to each other, relay information, and can rely on permanent on-ground infrastructure to support Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BLVOS) operations.
Autel is bringing out three accessories for the EVO Max 4T. The first is the remote control, the Autel Smart Controller V3, with an integrated 7.9-inch, 2,000-nit display. The Live Deck 2 is used to share automated drone mission data with team members; it can send video from the cameras to monitors or smart devices wirelessly. Finally there's an RTK Module, which adds centimeter-accurate mapping capability to the drone.
The EVO Max 4T is making its debut today at Autel's CES booth. We don't know exact pricing yet, but a representative from the company tells PCMag that it expects the drone to sell in the $7,000 to $9,000 range.
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Images, and the devices that capture them, are my focus. I've covered cameras at PCMag for the past 10 years, which has given me a front row seat for the DSLR to mirrorless transition, the smartphone camera revolution, and the mainstream adoption of drones for aerial imaging. You can find me on Instagram @jamespfisher.
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