The standard consumer drone flies using a phone. They are wired with software technology that supports smartphone control. However, using a smartphone to operate your drone has challenges too. Other signals such as phone calls, text messages, or other messaging alerts can flood your screen and cause you to lose track of your drone, or even interfere with the signal.
In general, a drone that connects with a smartphone for a display screen can be controlled with the flight controller on its own. However, you may lose certain functionality, especially with the live video feed and camera controls. Some drone controllers come with built-in display screens and don’t need a smartphone at all.
If you want to be able to fly a drone without the need for a smartphone, your options are:
- Fly with the flight controller sans smartphone with limited function
- Use a controller with a built in display (such as the DJI Smart Controller)
- Get a drone that comes with a controller with its own built-in display screen
Why use phones when operating drones?
Most drones rely on smartphones for a display screen since the typical drone controller does not come with a display of its own. But that doesn’t in any way suggest that they can’t work without phones.
The controller that comes with the drone is sufficient to operate the drone on a basic level, but if you don’t have a display screen, you will miss out on some key aspects of the drone’s functionality.
Without a display, the pilot will not be able to understand the drone or be able to control it smoothly. The phone acts as the first-person display or view (FPV). This is important because you will need to read the instructions from a screen to fly the drone.
Another important reason for using a smartphone while flying a drone is to be able to operate the camera. Camera controls are almost always set and operated through the onscreen display. Without the screen that comes with using a phone, you won’t be able to get photos and videos with your camera drone.
You have a few options if you want to be able to fly a drone, and don’t want to use a smartphone for one reason or another.
One option is to use a controller that comes with its own built-in monitor, such as the DJI Smart Controller.
Another option is to simply fly the drone with the controller, without using the phone for a display screen. You’ll lose functionality, but still have the fun of controlling that flying robot.
Your final option is to buy a drone that has a controller with a built-in display screen. This will allow you to fly the drone, fully functional, without having to mess around with a smartphone.
How does a drone fly without a phone?
The flight controller performs very sophisticated functions in the operation of a drone. Here is a discussion of the functions of the drone and flight controller that happen with or without a smartphone.
Perception of its environment
Most drones come with an in-built flight controller that enables the operator to control its motion. The controller is connected to a series of sensors that give it information on the height, orientation, and speed as it flies.
The Inertial Measurement Unit sensor (IMU) determines the angular speed and acceleration of the drone. The barometer sensor detects the height of the drone is during flight. There are also distance sensors that detect obstacles that may be lying in the drone’s way.
The drone filters the information supplied by these sensors. But it’s the flight controller that does all the filtering and fusion of the information from these sensors to keep the drone on track.
Controlling the drone
The flight controller is the main controller of the drone’s motion. You need to be able to tell the drone to rotate, roll to the right or left, or go up and down without losing control. All these movements are controlled by the flight controller.
Needless to say, the controller is the brain behind the drone’s complex motion while in the air. It creates differences of motion on its four motors to execute a particular movement. The changes in speed on the four motors then produce another type of motion according to the command it is given by the pilot.
The process looks seamless while the drone is moving through the air, but the technology used is quite complex. The controller uses the data collected from the sensors to calculate the next speed for each of the four motors. It then sends this desired speed to the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controllers).
The ESC translates the supplied data into a signal which the motors can understand. Once the information becomes sensible to the motors, it initiates the intended speed on each of the motors. This results in the generation of a unique motion such as flipping, diving, or rotating.
One important thing I want you to understand is how this process is carried out. The underlying language that propels the drone to act the way it does cannot be underrated. All the calculations and filtering of information to render the different acts of this device are carried out by an algorithm.
The PID Control
The flight controller uses a set of strict rules or algorithms known as the PID Control to calculate movements, filter, and fuse sensory information. It’s also used to estimate the durability of the flight. It uses the same process to determine the safety of the drone while on a flight.
The first set of rules (algorithm) was the Proportional Integral Derivative Control. Recently, another more advanced algorithm was introduced known as INDI (Incremental Nonlinear Dynamic Inversion). This algorithm is the fastest in reading and reacting to incoming information.
Another key function of the flight controller is communication. It is supposed to gather data, interpret it accurately and present the information gained to the screen so the pilot can use it to initiate further activity.
The information displayed on the screen helps the pilot get prepared for an occurrence such as a low battery level. So, communication is a key function of the flight controller.
Not only does the drone need to communicate with the human pilot but with the autopilot too. The drone industry has advanced with the introduction of computerized autopilot programs. These programs are set to operate without human involvement.
All that is required is to set up the necessary platform, organize the programs according to the desired results and automate them by setting the timing. This means there is a lot of communication going on between the drone and other computers on the network.
The infrastructure is organized in such a way that the network can process the automated information and start signals that will run the auto programs. Communication is aided by radio frequencies, WiFi, and cellular data.
Based on this knowledge of how drones work, we can understand that drones are designed to operate without phones, and don’t need them in order to fly or even to be controlled.
Drones you can use without a phone
Phantom 4 Pro+
The Phantom 4 Pro+ (check on Amazon) belongs to the DJI family of drones. This aerial imaging solution does not need a phone to connect with the flight controller. Instead, the flight controller comes with its own integrated screen. This is one of the reasons it is among the most popular consumer and commercial drones.
It has a 4k 12-megapixel camera attached to its gimbal. Its flight time stands at 30 minutes with a range of 7km or more. Its camera uses a mechanical shutter which eliminates shutter distortions to capture quality images of first moving objects.
It is fitted with very powerful video support which supports H.264 4K videos at 60fps or H.265 4K videos at 30fps. That is at least twice as good as the camera that’s in your smartphone.
Autel Evo II
The Autel Robotics Evo (check on Amazon) is the ultimate competitor to the DJI Mavic drone space. Autel EVO II is an appealing aerial video platform with a smart FPV screen tacked on a small window of its Remote Controller.
It has an amazing color scheme that is visible from a distance. The screaming orange makes it easy to spot. Although it can work exclusively without a smartphone, some of its features still would require an app to function better.
This drone sports an FPV transmitter with a 4.3 display which means you can control it without the help of a phone display. Its 5.8G real-time FPV can pack the whole world in front of you. The images are of high quality, and it is fitted with a headless mode which provides the pilot with a strong orientation.
Hubsan H501S is a great drone if you want one you can fly without a phone and not lose functionality.
This is a drone that sports an FPV display coupled with VR Goggles to provide stylish visual fidelity and an amazing 3D experience.
You are not limited when it comes to viewing video live through this amazing drone. You can watch live videos directly from it in real-time. Its camera, fitted with a 5.8Ghz 720P camera, can capture images that are highly rated, both videos and photos.
Once you activate Headless mode, you will be able to fly the drone to any location without worrying about the direction the drone is facing. It has a One-Key off & Landing feature button which makes it possible to take and land without any bumps along the way.
It also features the Altitude Hold Mode Button which once activated, makes the drone easier to control and stabilizes the camera while moving at high speeds.