Suppose you’ve watched movies like Outside The Wire or any other military film or documentary. In that case, you must have seen soldiers fly drones that are thousands of miles away with a joystick and a computer.
You may have wished you could do this with a standard drone, but can you fly a drone from a computer?
You can fly a drone from a computer, but it’s not as efficient, and you do not have access to some of the drone’s features. Drones are designed to work with apps built for Android and iOS devices.
To fly a drone from a computer, you can use emulating software, mirroring software, or mapping software such as DroneDeploy, PC Ground Station, or UGCS.
Keep reading to learn more about flying a drone from a computer, its practicality, and its limitations.
Can you fly a DJI drone from a computer?
Yes, you can, and below are the main ways to do that.
Use emulating software
One of the ways you can fly a drone using a laptop is by using emulating software. The main hindrance to operating a drone from a computer is that most of their flying apps are designed to work on either Android or iOS devices, not Windows or Mac devices.
But thanks to emulators, there’s a workaround. They allow you to emulate an Android or iOS environment on your PC. Thus, you can install an Android app on your PC and use it like you would on an Android device.
Some emulators that have achieved this are the BlueStacks or the AmiDuos. Below is a step-by-step process of using DJI’s apps on your laptop.
- Download the BlueStacks or the Amiduos app on your laptop.
- Download the DJI GO App, Litchi, or any other relevant app, depending on your drone and what you’ll be using it for.
- Select your drone from the app and go ahead with the usual setup as you would on a mobile device.
Note: These emulators may not work for all computers.
Using mirroring software
If emulating software doesn’t work for your computer, another option is using Vysor, a mirroring software that allows you to cast your Android device’s screen to a laptop.
This process might work, but you will still be using your smartphone. There’ll also be a slight lag and not the safest way to fly your drone.
Windows 10 also allows you to connect your Android device and mirror everything you do on it on your PC.
DroneDeploy is one of the best mapping software programs that allow you to plan flights, collect, and process geotagged data. And the best thing about DroneDeploy is that it’s available for Android, PC, and even Android Emulators.
DJI’s PC Ground Station
Now, using emulating software has its challenges. For starters, most laptops lack GPS, so you may have to use an additional Bluetooth GPS. If you can’t get an external GPS module, then Follow-Me and Return-To-Home features will not work.
Secondly, most users have experienced connectivity and compatibility issues with the apps.
Thankfully, DJI had its own PC Ground Station which you can use instead on your computer. I say “had” because they discontinued support for the Ground Station after Google discontinued the Google Earth API, but the software is still available in their archives.
The PC Ground Station is a GIS data collection tool that allows flying the drone in five different ways: keyboard, joysticks, a controller, imputing waypoints, and autonomous BVR (Beyond Visual Range) flight.
The Ground Station gives you even more telemetry data such as pitch percentage, throttle percentage, air speed, and attitude.
In addition to the drone’s stabilization, the Ground Station also comes with extra flight control algorithms that keep it stable even in adverse conditions.
Suppose you’re a land surveyor, firefighter, or involved in any map-making process and would love a way to collect data without any interruptions. In that case, the PC Ground Station is perfect for that. You can take advantage of it now that it’s still available.
In response to the discontinuing of the PC Ground Station, UGCS launched its own version. This software also works with DJI drones but uses custom-built software and doesn’t use the Google Earth API.
However, to plan flights for drones like the Phantom 3 and 4 series, Inspire 1 and 2, Mavic and Matrice series, you first have to download the UGSC Android app on your smartphone.
Like the PC Ground Station, UGSC allows you to use waypoints, fly the drone autonomously, collect geotagged photographs, and access 3D maps.
Use A Larger Screen (Tablet or iPad)
If all you want is a larger screen and the options above don’t work for you, consider getting an iPad or a Tablet. These devices use either Android or iOS, so they should comfortably handle DJI’s flying apps.
Better yet, tablets and iPads are lighter, more portable, and can even hold a charge longer than laptops. Besides, DJI’s Ground Station Pro (DJI GS Pro) is available for iPads, and it works almost the same as the discontinued PC Ground Station.
The DJI GS Pro is compatible with the following drones and accessories:
- Cameras such as the Zenmuse X3, X5, X5R, X4S, X5S, Z3, Z30, and XT
- Inspire 1/Inspire 2
- Matrice 100, Matrice 200/210/210 RTK
- Matrice 600/600 Pro, A3, N3
- Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom
- Mavic Pro
- Phantom 3 Standard/4K/Advanced/Professional
- Phantom 4/Pro Advanced/V2
Using DJI’s Assistant 2
With the DJI Assistant, you will not be flying the drone outside. Instead, it allows you to use your drone in the Simulator.
What you do is launch the DJI Assistant on your computer, connect your drone, and launch the Simulator within the DJI Assistant.
Since the drone itself shouldn’t be moving, you must detach the propellers, but the motors will be running as long as you are using the Simulator.
How far can a drone fly when controlled from a computer?
How far the drone will fly depends on its link to the controller. If anything or any factor hinders that link, the drone won’t fly that far, and it could even fly away.
Can you fly a DJI drone without the App?
You can fly most DJI drones without the apps by using just the controllers, but this limits how you can use the drones.
For instance, unless the controller has a screen, you will not be able to view the live footage. Secondly, you can’t access camera settings, altitude settings, calibration, and many other features provided through the app.
Why is DJI Fly not on Google Play?
Due to compatibility issues, Google Play can no longer install or update the DJI Fly app on mobile devices. As a result, you have to download the app manually from DJI’s website and conduct a manual installation.
Do you need Wi-Fi to fly a drone?
Whether flying the drone from your smartphone or PC, you will not need Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is only necessary when downloading apps and extra features and updating the firmware, but the actual flying of a drone doesn’t need Wi-Fi.
Can you fly the DJI Mini SE without a phone?
You can fly the DJI Mini SE with just the controller, but you’ll only have access to a few features. All you can do is switch on the drone by pushing both sticks inwards or outwards, control yaw, pitch, throttle, and roll, and take photos. But for full functionality, you need the app.
Can you fly DJI drones without GPS?
You can fly a DJI drone with a weak GPS signal or no signal, but it’s risky, and you risk the drone flying away. DJI drones are designed to work with GPS, and when there’s no GPS, they can resort to ATTI Mode or a Vision System that will limit the drone to a 5-meter altitude.
Make sure you also check the drone’s manual to understand what happens if there’s no GPS.
Can you fly a drone over the internet?
It’s possible but risky and currently illegal in the United States to fly a drone over the internet. Usually, you control the drone by sending radio signals to it. And as long as the drone is within the transmitter’s range and there are no interferences, the communication is almost flawless.
But the internet is unpredictable, meaning sometimes the commands may take too long to get to the drone. This could lead to crashes and potentially damage property or hurt people.
While you could fly a DJI drone from a computer, the best way is still to use the app and the controller. The mapping software only allows you to input waypoints, while mirroring and emulating software introduces lags and connectivity issues which limit how well you can control a drone.