DJI’s New Robot Isn’t What You Were Expecting

This thing right here might as well be the
Loch Ness Monster with an iPhone 11, or footage of an alien drinking a milkshake
in Area 51. It’s a highly guarded secret, and anyone who
knows about it, or has seen it, has been forbidden from
admitting that it exists for months. That is, of course, until it made its way
here to my kitchen counter, and now to you. Say hello to DJI’s latest creation, the
RoboMaster S1. You all know DJI, it’s the world’s largest drone maker, and perhaps China’s most popular tech
company. People obsess over its products with an
Apple fanboy-like lust. And DJI delivers, bringing out one new drone
after another. But now DJI has decided to bring its talents
to the ground. With the RoboMaster S1, it has built a robot aimed at consumers who
want to drive around really fast, and then shoot each other with pellets and
lasers. Because if there’s one thing the world
really needed, it’s the violence of video games brought to
real life. The idea for this new robot started here, it’s the annual RoboMasters competition that DJI holds in Shenzhen. College engineering students show up for a
couple of weeks and try to destroy each other with a variety
of robots. As you can see, it’s a lot of fun. The big idea then was to shrink these robots
down to little ones, that regular people could
build and then use in their own battles. You know what says “inspiration and
creativity live here”? This poorly lit, brutalist building in the
Shenzhen suburbs that is a DJI research and development lab. Several months ago I came here to get a
firsthand look at prototypes of the RoboMaster S1. This fellow here is the lead of the design
team who helped bring this device to life. “Can you walk me through some of the
different parts?” “So this is a video transmitter, and here is
a camera. And also there’s a shooter mechanism.” “You’ve got the bullets in there?” “Yeah, 90% of them are made of water. And when it hits things, it’s smashed and it
disappears. And on each robot, the lights here indicates
the hit point. When you have repeated been hit, the robot will end up being destroyed.” “That’s the object of the game, is to chase
each other around and hit these plates? Is there like a laser?” “Yeah, and if you always aim at the center
you should be fine.” “All right let’s do it.” “Ok, let’s do it.” “Are you really good at this? Are you just being nice to me?” “No no no. I’m a good driver, but not a good
shooter.” “So you’ve got the controller, but there’s a
different mode where you can just use your body?” “In this way, we allow people to control the movement of
the rover. You can see it’s a very sensitive.” Because DJI founder Frank Wang is a cruel,
cruel engineer, you cannot just buy a RoboMaster S1 and play
with it. No, uou must first assemble it by hand and learn things along the way about
robotics and coding. Here’s a group of youngsters DJI turned into
its product testing guinea pigs at something it billed as a summer camp. “This robot is also an educational tool to
teach programming language. For example, it can be used as a autonomous
driving car, but we don’t have built-in functionality for
this, kids have to learn to to program themselves
to achieve these functionalities.” The hope is that this will teach kids a few
things, get them hooked on robotics, and turn into a worldwide sporting
phenomenon of sorts. “We hope that, in the future, robotics will
become a major sport, like football, basketball. That’s our vision for this product.” “Ow. I’m dead.” “Yes” “Nice game.” “My kids would die to play this.” And boys, daddy made your dream come true. Six months after my trip to China I got my hands on a couple of the finalized
units. Here’s my oldest son Bowie and his adorable
sidekick Tucker who don’t yet know just how bad the DJI
instructions are going to be. “Gentlemen, I have assembled you here today with cookies and milk for an important
project.” “Are going to build a robot?” “We are going
to build a robot, if you guys are up for
it.” “You’re going to have to do most of the
building.” Like a yak on about education and teachable
moments, but really I just wanted my kids to build
this thing so I could play with. “That’s the coolest tool I’ve ever seen.” “Tucker look at this.” “On your mark. Get set. Go!” It ships with this racing mode, where you can use computer vision to spot
targets placed around the house. “Engageing in close quarters.” “Ow, I keep crashing.” Of course, what’s more fun is shooting
pellets. “Here’s your orbs, boys.” Or it has laser mode, You know, for less mess. “This is the least fun part of the day.” Will many people actually buy the RoboMaster
S1? It’s hard to say. The product requires a lot of actual work to
use. It’s going to be expensive, and it’s much
more nichey than DJI’s usual devices. So it’s fair to say the struggle is real for
DJI trying to create a global RoboMasters
army. As we see how things play out, let’s just
hope that the kids remember to wear their
safety goggles, and the DJI has a good insurance policy.

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