Regardless of how careful we are in this connected world, we may misplace our electronic devices, from time to time. We have Smartwatches, Apple Pencils, Earbuds, Headphones, Smartphones, Tablets, and ultra-portable Laptops and Hybrids. All easy to lose, it would seem.
Thankful, many, if not all of these, have some sort of software tracking. If you have Apple devices, then the Apple “Find My” app will locate all the above items, within a few feet of their location.
You know something else we don’t want to get lost? Our beloved drones.
DJI’s “Find My Drone” feature uses the last recorded location of the drone prior to the drone and remote controller disconnecting.
The accuracy of “Find My Drone” will be more accurate based on how close to the ground you were flying or hovering when a disconnect occurred. If you lost connection with the drone high in the air at speed, pinpointing the drone’s location will be less than accurate.
Variables that affect the accuracy of “Find My Drone”
As mentioned, there are a few different variables that cause the accuracy of Find My Drone to deteriorate and ones that assist in it being more accurate.
The positive scenario
So, you are having a great day of flying, the wind is at a minimum, no gusts. You are in a flat and open field or meadow. The sky is clear and bright. (You can almost see harps playing and deer frolicking). You decide to take a picture of something scenic a few hundred yards away. You fly to the location, frame up the picture, all while at a hover.
Everything is going well until there is some sort of interference. The screen freezes then goes black and white. The drone simultaneously appears to lose power and drops from the sky; however, the battery does not disengage or pop out when it hits the ground.
To find the drone, all that would need to be done is enter the Find My Drone option under the safety tab.
In this case, on the map, you’ll see yourself as a blue circle and the approximate, last known location of the drone as a blue triangle.
Because there is possibly brush and trees in the vicinity of the drone and the battery is still on and in the drone, for added assistance in quickly finding the drone, you could initiate the Start Flashing and Beeping option.
You begin walking towards the on-screen triangle and hear and see the drone in almost the exact location within the boundaries of said triangle.
In this scenario, the drone was easy to find and almost exactly where it should be based on its last known location, prior to disconnecting from the controller. This is because the drone fell relatively, if not almost exactly, straight down.
This would also be the case if you were flying slowly, such as in Cine or tripod mode, while framing up your shot. The drone would not have the momentum to crash-land much further than where the app showed its last location.
The negative scenario
This is where things get a bit more disagreeable. Instead of being in a scenic field, on a beautifully calm and bright day, you are flying in the woods, in hilly terrain. The wind is slowly kicking up, with alarming gusts. Top that off with it being overcast and dreary.
The drone has been flown out a few hundred yards at about 300-400 feet up, while in sport mode. Then the screen freezes, and the drone disconnects from the RC. RTH (return to home) kicks in.
However, because the drone is far away, the drone operator is stressed out and unfocused and the visual line of sight is momentarily lost. The unthinkable happens: you never hear or see the drone return to home. It went down somewhere “out there”.
I know this scenario sounds over the top; however, this is something that has indeed happened to a fellow drone operator.
All the proper steps were initiated in the Find My Drone option, however, after hours of looking, the drone is not located, although the blue triangle says the drone is about a quarter of a mile out.
What variables contributed to Find My Drone not being accurate in this scenario?
- Drone speed.
- Wind Speed.
- Drone Height.
- Return to Home.
Because all these actions and conditions were in play, simultaneously, when the drone lost connection to the controller, the drone would have traveled well outside of the initial vicinity of the last known location at disconnect.
If speed and height were the only factors, the drone could have flown quite a distance in RTH and then lost power and continued a fair distance while plummeting to the earth, due to inertia. In this case, both wind speed and return to home were also contributing factors.
As was demonstrated in these two polar-opposite scenarios, the accuracy of Find My Drone is based on quite a few things:
- Drone speed
- Wind Speed
- Drone Height
- Return to Home initiation
The find my drone option is more accurate if you are moving slowly at a conservative height above the ground. If you are moving fast and at higher speeds, the accuracy when finding your drone is that much less, unfortunately.
Thankfully, there are alternate ways to track one’s drone, outside of just the find my drone option in the DJI Go and DJI Fly apps.
Useful tracking alternatives
One of the great things about drones is their ability to carry light items on their airframe. Because of this ability, there are indeed additional/alternative means to track your drone safely and preserve your investment.
These tracking methods are usually small and lightweight devices that use a GPS or Bluetooth signal, in conjunction with some sort of auditory feedback as means for pinpointing the location.
GPS drone trackers
As the name suggests, GPS Drone Trackers use a GPS signal that can be detected anywhere in the world. The tracker itself is a small, lightweight device that’d you’d attach to your drone. The tracker is displayed in live view on that GPS tracker’s mobile or desktop app, allowing you to easily locate the device with high accuracy.
While these are the better, if not best, tracking alternatives, there are a couple of things to be aware of.
Firstly, like with anything GPS driven, the signal can be scrambled or degraded if there is a lot of metal located in the immediate area. A parking garage, in particular, comes to mind, due to the large amounts of steel and rebar used to construct them.
These can and will interfere with the GPS signal. Have you ever tried to launch your drone from a parking garage? It’s an exercise in patience, as you’ll receive quite a few GPS errors until you locate an area on or around the structure without so much interference.
Secondly, GPS trackers require a cellular service plan, as a cellular signal is used to send the drone tracker’s position to your mobile device.
An example of a GPS tracker can be found below:
Unlimited distance US &worldwide. For Vehicles, Car, Kids, Elderly, Dogs, Motorcycle. Small Portable real-time Tracking Device. Monthly fee required.
Again, the positive of using a GPS tracker is its accuracy. If you can look past the added expense of an additional cellular plan, then using a GPS tracking device might be the best additional solution to find my drone for you.
Most likely we have all heard of Apple AirTags. These are little Bluetooth trackers that you attach to the items you might regularly lose. These are Bluetooth devices, run by standard, onboard batteries, that you can locate via the Find My app on Apple and iOS devices.
Like Apple Airtags, the Bluetooth Trackers one would use to affix to their drone are small, lightweight, and trackable. One would not need to necessarily purchase a drone-specific Bluetooth tracker, as any tracker should do.
The thing with Bluetooth Trackers is that they are only useful if you know the general location of the drone, as many Bluetooth Trackers will only display tracking information when within 60-70 feet of the downed drone, and Apple AirTags even less than that.
This does come in useful, though, when you are in the general vicinity of your downed drone.
Some of the more popular Bluetooth Trackers are:
- The CUBE
- Apple AirTag
One of the great things about modern Bluetooth trackers like the CUBE and the Apple AirTag is that, even if you are not in the vicinity of your property (in this case, your drone), the app will show you the last known general location of said tag. Pretty much like the find my drone feature.
Also, the batteries are replaceable. Long gone are the days of the old TILE where you’d have to buy a new Bluetooth tracking device once the batteries were depleted.
However, unlike the drone that might have had the battery disengage (eject) or die after going missing, the Bluetooth trackers can be activated to make audible notifications when you are within range if their internal batteries are still charged.
Each Bluetooth tracker has its own set of bells and whistles. It’s advisable to research all the options the tracker you like has to offer if you decide to go that route.
The Find My Drone feature is a great option for anyone that has a downed drone, although the accuracy of the feature depends largely on how you were flying the drone, prior to it going missing or crashing.
Thankfully, there are alternatives or additional devices available to assist in finding a lost drone. The most accurate and expensive (in the long run) are GPS trackers but sworn by many.
It is hoped you will never have to use the find my drone feature, however, if you find that you do, hopefully, you will be able to recover it in a timely fashion.