I remember the minute I saw a drone for the first time – I had to have one! I went back home and began searching throughout the internet but there was not much info that I could find, nor too many drones to choose from. Nowadays, unlike the past, there are plenty of brand new drones out there, each with an interesting set of features, and the new challenge has become, how do I pick the right drone? If you are a beginner and want to buy your first amazing drone, the most important thing you need to be aware of is about the latest features used in current drones, so that you know what to expect from your selected drone.
In this post, I’m going to list down the current available features and explain how they work, but bear in mind that sometimes the same feature in one drone could go by different names in other drones. For instance, there is feature in DJI drones that is called Waypoint, in which a pilot can pre-plan the flight path by setting points on the map. The 3DR Solo has the same capability but it’s called CableCam, also in Align M480L the very same feature is known as fix-point survey function.
Circle Hovering; Orbit; 360
I noticed that some people are confusing the Circle Hovering and Safe Circle. The first one is sport flyers’ favorite feature, in which the drone flies around the pilot – or more precisely, the transmitter – while recording a video. This can be done by setting radius of the flight and in some drones like Hexo+ you can simply set your drone to circle “close” or “far away” from you. However, the Safe Circle is meant for beginners, with this feature the drone is not allowed to fly close to the pilot. The radius of the circle varies depending on the drone’s brand but it’s usually about 26-foot (8 meters) from the controller.
No Fly Zone; Geo-Fence
As per FAA regulation the drone can fly no higher than 400ft (~121 meters). When buying a drone, you should pay a lot of attention to the No Fly Zone feature and check with the supplier if the drone is compliant with regulations, so that you don’t fly illegally. This feature should also limit your drone flying over restricted areas such as airports or within 15 miles radius of the White House. The limitations are pre-programmed, you need to make sure your drone is updated to the latest firmware. The Geo-Fence is the same as No Fly Zone but it does not necessarily follow the regulations. It is widely used by beginners, setting boundaries so that the drone does not fly farther than specified distance. For instance, by enabling the geo-fence in Typhoon Yuneeq Q500 4k drone, it flies no more than 300 feet (91 meters) from the pilot’s position.
Follow me; Watch Me; Tracking Mode; Look-down Mode; Selfie Mode
These names address the same feature although they are different in small details. Basically, they work in the way that you set the drone to spot you or an object to take photos or record videos, then the drone either begins chasing or hovering over the target. For some drones like Chroma blade, you’ll notice there are both Tracking Mode and Follow Me options, the only difference is that with the first one you pre-set the altitude and the distance from where the drone follows you, so that you can only focus on taking shots. But with the Follow Me mode the drone chases you automatically while recording a video. This is pretty much the same as Look- down Mode that is used in Airdog drone.
Failsafe Mode; Uncontrollable Return to Land
It is vital to have this feature with your drone. Many users have lost their drone, especially those who bought mini drones. With this feature, when losing connection with the radio controller, the drone returns back home automatically, however, depending on the brand “home” can have different meanings. Some drones return and land from where they took off, but the more professional drones, home is where the transmitter is located. This feature is also very tricky, if it fails to calibrate your GPS/compass properly, you may lose your drone forever as it flies to somewhere you don’t expect, so make sure to calibrate before each flight.
Auto-landing; Return-home; Auto-return
This one is the same as the Failsafe mode with the only difference that there is a button or switch on the controller (or in the app), which lets you simply call your drone back home. The more professional the drone is, the closer it lands to the spot where it started (or, closer to your transmitter). There are some lousy drones that can give you a hard time landing farther than home,and a few users have already experienced their drone returning with a push of a button but ridiculously landed on a neighbours’ roof.
With all that said, in terms of functionality these features can be sorted into two groups. The ones that are meant for the safety of flight or the pilot (Return-home, Failsafe and etc.), and those that are added for better usability and control of the flight (follow me, watch me and etc.). The second group is just optional. Having these features with your drone is just amazing, but make sure your drone includes all the safety measures both legally and personally, which can save you money and give you less trouble.
By Arash Tehrani
About the Author: Arash covers drone reviews, including recreational and commercial drones and their applications. He created droneshift.com because he’s passionate about drones and believes they are not just hobby toys, they are our future.