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New module aims to allow unlimited range for some DJI drones over cellular network

Want unlimited range for your drone? As long as you have a connection to the cellular network, you can have it — with the right equipment.

And for that, you might consider Paladin’s new EXT device, an LTE module that allows you to fly with unlimited range using the cellular network. That’s set to be useful for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights — which are likely to become more common as progress continues on BVLOS drone regulations.

Most radio-based drones are limited in their range — and thus scalability — because of the need for remote pilots-in-command (RPICs) with a direct connection from the remote controller to the drone.  With LTE, that changes.

At present, there are a few similar devices to the Paladin EXT on the market. A bit one is the Botlink XRD, which offers LTE command and control capabilities via small hardware device you’ll mount on your drone. It connects through the Botlink Relay app. But the Botlink XRD is only compatible with drones that use MAVLink autopilots such as the Pixhawk, Pixhawk 2, and ArduPilot Mega, running PX4 or APM firmware.

For DJI drones, that’s where Paladin EXT comes in.

The Paladin EXT module on a DJI M300 drone. Photo courtesy of Paladin.

What to know about the Paladin EXT

Paladin EXT connects to certain compatible DJI drones to via PSDK port. Once connected, you’re looking at an extended range of an LTE connection — and, assuming you have an unwavering LTE connection — unlimited range, no less.

And it could prove to be a game-changer for understaffed, cash-strapped businesses or emergency response departments across the country, who don’t otherwise have fully autonomous systems.

For now, the Paladin EXT is only capable of integrating with the DJI M300 or DJI M30 drones. The DJI M300, or DJI Matrice 300 RTK in full, is a roughly $11,000 rugged, enterprise drone that offers up to 55 minutes of flight time, advanced AI capabilities, 6 Directional Sensing & Positioning and more.

The DJI M30 drone launched earlier this year and comes in two forms, the M30 and the M30T, which adds in a thermal component. Both offer 41 minutes of flight time, IP55 protection, Dual-vision and ToF sensors  and an ADS-B receiver. While the M30 has three sensors (wide-angle camera, zoom camera, laser range finder), the M30T adds a fourth thermal imaging camera as well). The M30 also has a strong data privacy component. While the M30 is one of the cheaper in the Matrice line, starting at just under $10,000, the M30T starts at $14,000.

Combining the Paladin EXT with those drones can add big improvements. The DJI M30 uses O3 Enterprise software, which enables a maximum transmission distance of 15km if unobstructed (such as when flying in an open field) or 1.5 km with strong interference (such as an urban landscape). The DJI M300 remote controller offers a maximum transmission distance of 15 km. While impressive, it’s not unlimited, the way it is with Paladin EXT.

Of course, in order for products like EXT to exist, there needs to be a LTE/4G/5G mobile network. That means that flights in super remote areas where there’s no cell reception won’t work. But for use cases such as many emergency rescue scenarios that occur in places with cell service, it’s not a problem.

Paladin EXT is already available now for purchase directly through Paladin’s website.

The state of BVLOS in America

Right now the Federal Aviation Administration’s (BVLOS) regulations typically require having a remote pilot in command being able to view the drones which limits their range to as far as they can see. But major progress was made in March 2022 when the FAA’s BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) final report published, bringing with it ideas including a possible Part 108 certification, guidance around aircraft right of way and more, which would make flights far more viable.

LTE is a major factor in how Paladin is able to acquire BVLOS waivers without the need for an elevated visual observer for its existing customers of its Knighthawk drone (more on that later). 

Paladin’s Knighthawk drone. Photo courtesy of Paladin.

What is Paladin?

No, the Paladin we’re talking about here is not the twelve fictional knights of Charlemagne’s 8th century court. This Paladin is a Houston, Texas-based drone company that builds LTE-powered drone hardware and software primarily designed to serve in first responder, emergency situations. The company is relatively new, having launched in 2018.

Paladin company currently has two other products: a hardware product called Knighthawk and a software product called Watchtower. Knighthawk, which launched in 2021, is an autonomous drone that already comes with an LTE connection, enabling it to fly BVLOS missions. Watchtower is its accompanying software that manages the drone’s flight, a multi-device video feed, and is capable of managing the data the drone collects.

A view of Paladin’s Watchtower software. Photo courtesy of Paladin.

But should you want that LTE connection but you’d rather use a DJI drone versus Paladin’s own, that’s where Paladin EXT comes in. And that might be a more likely option, especially for enterprises that already own DJI drones. The Drone Girl has not independently reviewed Paladin’s products, but DJI products are typically highly reliable. And since it’s a larger company, there might be more opportunities for support (not just from the company but from third-parties who are trained in DJI repairs) should you go with a DJI drone versus the Knighthawk. Paladin is also not super transparent about pricing and requires a demo to order, which might not be as appealing for everyone as, say, the DJI M300 or M30 itself, which can be purchased online and shipped to your business within a few days. Paladin said pricing varies by t needs, deployment models, and sizes.

Still, Paladin EXT might serve that middle ground for DJI owners who want additional features.

“Paladin’s mission is to build technology that saves live,” said Paladin founder Divy Shrivastava. “The EXT brings the ease of use and unlimited range of Paladin’s C2 link to the amazing capabilities of DJI’s Matrice lineup, making DFR more accessible than ever before.”