I have been flying drones for business purposes for 6 years now. When I first had the idea of a drone business, I did a lot of research. I wanted to learn the different platforms, the business opportunities, and the legal requirements and rules. I earned my Part 107 certificate before I started flying so that I was not outside of the rules and since I had not been involved in aeronautics in any way prior, that was quite an eye-opener.
I began with the Phantom 3 Advanced and have crashed, traded, upgraded, and grown through 6 different aircraft, operating now with the Phantom 4 Pro V2 and I use my Phantom 4 Pro as my backup.
While I love the Phantom 4 Pro V2, there are four issues that bother me, and they are not so much V2 issues as much as problems that the Phantom 4 Pro and most of the Phantom aircraft also share.
- Obstacle avoidance infrared side sensors are only available in beginner mode and tripod mode and are not active all the time.
- The Phantom 4 Pro V2 lacks an obstacle avoidance sensor on the top of the aircraft.
- You need to test the accuracy of the obstacle avoidance system yourself, with the risk of crashing.
- The 12-volt battery charger you can plug into your vehicle takes an exceptional amount of time to charge one battery.
Let’s work through these issues together.
1. Side sensor activation
If you’re new to the Phantom 4 Pro V2, you will soon discover what I’m talking about. The more experienced Phantom pilot has probably already found this annoying feature and has come to terms with it in some way or another.
Getting into the programming of your aircraft you will marvel at the available settings for the hazard sensors. Now, DJI calls this their “Vision System” and the “Infrared Sensing System”.
The vision system sensors are on the bottom, nose, and tail of the aircraft. The infrared sensors are located on both sides. There are control slide buttons within the programming and you can choose what to have on and off as your project dictates.
If you are scheduling your flight to be in very confined spaces, you might need to turn off the vision system. Let’s say that you want to fly closer than 30 feet to a wall to do some detailed inspection. When the vision system is on, you will start to get a warning on the RC, and when you get within the established boundaries, the aircraft will stop dead where it is and not proceed another inch.
This is very helpful for cinematic flying where you might want a sweeping fly-by of a hillside or ornate building, but if you need to get close in for a still shot that you will want to magnify, you need to turn off the vision system. Likewise, if you are flying into a tunnel, the lower alarm will beep and limit how low you can go.
This is most frustrating for me when I am landing on the deck of my pickup and the aircraft is facing toward or away from the cab. The system will stop the AC from getting close enough until I either turn sideways or turn off the system before I can land.
Side sensors in Beginner Mode
However, the big irritation is that the infrared side sensors cannot be turned on until you launch and put the drone into Beginner Mode or Tripod Mode. The “Beginner Mode” is not described in the user manual and can only be found while browsing through the control screen menu. You will find this option on the MC Settings page, 5th item down on the list.
It shows that “In Beginner Mode the aircraft can only fly within 30 radius of the Home Point at significantly slower speeds.” This is a very good idea for someone new to droning, and a great idea if you have not flown your $1500 V2 before.
But if you are anything like the rest of us, by the end of the first battery you are ready for some real flying and you will turn off Beginner Mode. So why did DJI choose to make the infrared side sensors available in Beginner Mode? That answer is pretty obvious.
As a new pilot who is just learning to fly you want all the protection and warnings available, but if you can only fly 30 radius (I am assuming that is 30 yards or 30 meters depending on how you have set your measurement units) that is close enough that you should be able to visualize any obstacles in any direction.
As beginners, we are so focused on where the drone is going and we are watching it so closely that if we were to hear the controller beeping and light arcs on the screen glowing red, that may distract us from keeping visual line of sight. So I am not sure that the infrared side sensors are of much value in Beginner Mode.
According to the User Manual, “In the Tripod Mode, the maximum flight speed is limited to 5.6 mph (9kph) and the braking distance is reduced to 6.6 ft (2m). Responsiveness to stick movements is also reduced for smoother more controlled movements”.
It seems that the only time DJI feels the infrared side sensors are needed is when the drone is going slower than normal speeds. Also, you cannot start Tripod Mode until you are in the air, so you have to take extra steps to activate the infrared side sensors.
However, I would like to be able to use the infrared side sensors in all the modes. If I am flying up a hillside in trees or other vegetation, the warning of an object to the side could be greatly appreciated. I have flown around the top of a hill several times where there was a temporary loss of sight of the aircraft.
It sure would be nice if I had some confidence that I was not flying into something to the left or right. Another time I was flying through a gully with pine trees on both sides and climbed up in a cinematic shot. I had a clear line of sight to my drone, and I saw a tree just beyond the V2 but the drone was facing away and I could not tell how close to the right the tree was.
Right about then, I could have used a warning because I moved an inch closer, caught a twig, and crashed to the ground. The V2 fell all the way to the bottom of the gully. It was a long hike down to get it, and some repairs were needed.
Why DJI has decided to not program the infrared side sensors to operate for all flight modes is a mystery to me. I have contacted their helpline and chatted with an agent, but he said he did not have the answer to that and would send the question up line.
2. Lack of top obstacle sensor
Another common issue with the Phantom 4 Pro V2 is that there is no sensor on the top of the drone. Why not? I would love to fly through a tunnel and not worry about rising just a bit too much, or fly down a forest path and be relieved of the danger of going too high.
Again, DJI has made a design decision without really consulting the people who buy and fly their drones.
3. Obstacle sensor sensitivity level
The range of hazard detection is stated in the manual as being between 50 and 70 degrees to each side of each sensor, depending on which sensor is in question. However, the distance of the hazard recognition is not mentioned in any instructions, so the only way to determine the accuracy of the signals is by testing it yourself.
There are multiple variables to consider while testing and you should be aware of getting different results under different circumstances. For one thing, the surface of the object you are coming close to can cause distinct changes. A smooth cement wall will not be detected as soon as a wall of wood slats that have a rough or textured surface.
A large boulder will show up before a street or paved road. Reflective surfaces register well but fences my not activate a warning at all.
The only way to find the accuracy level of your V2’s obstacle avoidance system is by individual testing and experimentation. If at all possible, ask an observer to help out then go out and find several different surfaces to work with.
Place your observer and yourself at different angles to the object and keep things low to the ground. Try testing against trees, bushes, structures, and ground areas. The speed you fly at can also change the distances that are detected. The faster you fly, the less space your aircraft has to respond.
4. Battery life and charging
Generally, when you are out flying for business or recreation, you are using three different power sources. Naturally, everyone knows about the aircraft battery and you usually remember the RC battery, but many forget your tablet, iPad, or phone power levels.
Although the user manual says that you can expect 30 minutes of flight time out of the drone batteries, that is highly dependent on several circumstances. To be safe, I usually calculate that each battery will give me 20 minutes of flight time if fully charged at take-off.
Vertical and horizontal speeds can draw heavily and the power levels. Head- or tailwinds can change how quickly batteries decline. Fortunately, DJI has done a great job of including a massive amount of battery data right on the RC screen so that you can keep track of the situation.
There are also several safety protocols in place in case you lose track of the power levels. You can set the alert limits within the menu but I generally use the 20% level as my warning and 10% as my auto Return To Home setting.
When the battery reaches the point that there is only 20% power left, an automated warning activates, indicating the level. At the 10% level, the drone will automatically begin to land.
Another safety feature activates when the aircraft calculates that there is just enough power to Return to Home. To be sure that I can complete almost any mission, I carry seven batteries in my kit.
The RC battery lasts longer than the aircraft batteries by a long shot, but it is not possible to slip in a charged battery once the RC gets low. In addition, when your screen device is plugged into the RC, the RC battery will transfer power to the screen. This drains the RC a bit faster and I have not found a method to shut that option off.
Additionally, do not let the RC battery get below one bar of power. If the RC battery gets too low, an internal sensor will not allow you to recharge the battery fully. I can tell you from personal experience that just installing a new battery will not solve the problem. A whole new RC unit will be needed.
Since the RC unit will use power to charge whatever screen you use, be sure that your screen is fully charged before leaving your home or office for a mission. iPad, tablet, and phone chargers are common and when plugged into your vehicle’s 12-volt system, charge pretty quickly.
However, there are only two charging accessories available for the aircraft and RC batteries. The most commonly used is the home charger that plugs into your 110 volt home system.
Many companies also make a rack that holds three drone batteries but only charges one RC. I have read a warning that recommends that you not charge the RC at the same time you are charging the drone batteries.
The other device available is the car charger. However, it is very, very slow. When I am in the field, I cannot count on even one battery charging to 100% before I have used all 7 of my batteries. This all has to do with amperage, voltage, and many other electronic settings, but suffice to say that you should not rely on the car charger to keep your drone going for very long.
I hope I have been able to enlighten the new Phantom 4 Pro V2 user on some issues with the drone. Each of these topics is a programming issue and I don’t know if there is anything that any one of us can do to solve them, but we always are moving forward with enjoying our flying.
Hobby or professional, droning is great and the possibilities are endless. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t like DJI or my Phantom 4 Pro V2. I only buy DJI right now and until something of equal value and technology comes along, I will keep my fleet.