Seagate Flies High With DJI And Thunderbolt

Even for people outside of the technology field, DJI's Phantom is what we think of when someone mentions drones or drone technology. DJI has pioneered and innovated, and a new product can't come to market without competing with a similar model from the company. Now that the technology has been sorted, it's time to find practical uses for drones that go beyond toys and the cool factor. The first real professional leap is a moving, sometimes autonomous, recording platform that can follow a target while shooting professional video. That data has to be stored on light, yet robust media. At CES 2017, Seagate and DJI announced a partnership without announcing a product.

At CES, we actually saw a product build by Seagate but branded with a DJI logo. Seagate didn’t allow us to photograph the gray plastic box with a rubber bumper, but the company recorded a video with less detail than we would like.

DJI has a need for a storage technology partner. Many, if not all of its drones come with some sort of video recording device, or you can add one. Drone technology lives and dies by the weight of the vehicle, so working with a company like Seagate could easily extend the battery life for each flight. For instance, the Phantom series averages 20 minutes per flight, which would decrease if you packed the drone with a hard disk drive.

Some of DJi's professional products, like the Inspire 2, already use high-performance M.2 NVMe SSDs with the PCI Express 3.0 protocol. If you follow our SSD reviews, then you already know that different devices consume power at different rates and there is a large divide between the best and worst products.

Once the video comes from the drone, it has to rest somewhere before and during manipulation. There isn't an interface loved more by professional videographers than Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is the new FireWire, but it's backed by Intel and used on both Apple and Wintel PCs. The technology is now on its third revision, and Seagate and LaCie have been through each revision every step of the way. As a whole, Seagate has the broadest Thunderbolt product lineup available. At the show, we saw the current Thunderbolt products that range from portable, to not so portable, to downright massive (see below). We even found a LaCie Rugged clone at another booth. This tells us the competition for rugged devices will tumble around in 2017.

The 12big from LaCie stands unphased by competitors. This product doesn't have any competition outside of re-purposed enterprise systems. We've seen the 12big on display at other shows, like Intel Developers Forum in a Thunderbolt 3 display, but never captured its presence on film (or 0s and 1s on a memory card). The 12big is the design inspiration behind other recently announced products, like the 6big. The blue orb is smaller, but it's still present as a throwback to previous designs from the company. Performance wise, the 12big can transfer one hour of 4K ProRes 444 QX video (764GB) in 5 minutes or less using hard disk drives. LaCie just released a new 120TB version outfitted with enterprise-class hard disk drives.

It goes without saying that you will need several drone batteries to fill this system with flight video.

Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.