As summer 2014 began, we published a list of 5 Tips for Buying a Drone. Since that article was posted, the Dronelife team has spent many hours behind the controls of various drones. With drone sales expected to spike as the holiday season bears down on us, we thought it would be prudent to add to our list with some other things we learned/wish we had known when we began.
1) Be realistic about your technical knowledge: One of the obvious factors to consider when buying a drone is how much money you are willing spend. Slightly less obvious is the amount of time you are willing to spend.
Some models are designed to be literally plug-and-play; you hook up the battery, turn on the controller and away you go. Others require GPS calibration, trim adjustment or multiple network connections (i.e. radio, WiFi, Bluetooth) to get airborne.
Some models allow you to save the pictures and videos your drone takes right to your smartphone. Others require you to save images to a micro SD card (often sold separately) and then transfer the data to your computer.
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the issues that can arise when you (inevitably) crash. Are you going to take it upon yourself to dig into the circuitry or would you prefer to send it back to the manufacturer (under warranty, of course)?
2) The best instructions are on YouTube: Once you have discovered a drone that piques your interest, you can often evaluate the amount of work it will take to actually fly the drone by watching other people’s experiences on YouTube. And then, when you actually get the drone in your hand, YouTube is typically more useful than most manuals for solving problems.
3) Consider Prop-Guards: We have said it before and we will say it again: you will crash your drone. When crashes do happen, your propellers are usually the first thing to hit the ground/tree/wall/innocent bystander (trust us, we conducted our own experiments on this one*). Most drones are built with contingency protocols for crashes, but propeller guards are often cheap and can seriously help prolong the life of your propellers.
4) Know where you are going to fly: Are you buying a drone to fly in your neighborhood? Do you have a big lawn? Or will you be flying in a park? Is it often windy at the park? Before you invest the time and money into a drone, think about the environment in which you will be flying. There is a difference between the type of drone you would fly on the beach versus the one you would fly in a china shop.
If a gust of wind were to take your drone away, are your neighbors the type of people who would laugh and give it back or shoot it down? If your controller loses contact with the drone and it automatically lands, is it going to have a “clear path” or will there be a lot of people (or a body of water) around?
5) Set your expectations: As incredible as small UAV technology is, it’s far from perfect. One thing that surprises first time fliers is that battery life is still pretty limited; 10-20 minutes depending on the model and even less if you are recording video… and then it can take up to an hour to get a full charge again.
WiFi connections can lead to latency issues can lead to imperfect FPV flight monitoring can lead to crashes.
You can buy extra batteries and add-ons to counter some of these shortcomings, but the costs can add up quickly. So make sure you understand exactly what you are getting before you give anyone your credit card info (by checking out the Dronelife Product Configurator!).
*No people or animals were harmed during the creation of this post.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com