Drones are going to be a popular gifts this holiday season. If you are considering buying one this year, (and, if you’re not, allow us to convince you by clicking here) on of the major factors that will go into your decision is cost. As with all electronic gadgets, cost is often leveraged against available features.
But one feature that is more important to drones than your iPhone or smart watch is GPS compatibility. Most higher priced drones have it, and most lower-cost models don’t.
Is it worth spending the extra money for GPS connectivity? It depends on what you are going to use it for. If you are going to be flying at your home or office, it may not be necessary because crashes are low risk and the chances of it flying away on you are small. If you are flying in a park or taking your drone on vacation with you…that’s a different story. To help you decide how important a GPS capability is in your first drone, here are some of the features of GPS connected drones:
1) Position hold– A feature that is becoming more and more common among small UAV offerings, position hold is simply the ability of a drone to hold itself in one location in space. For example, if you takeoff and hover the drone seven feet off the ground, you can let go of your controller and the drone will hold that altitude and location while compensating for any external factors that might try and move it, such as wind.
Why it’s useful– Learning to fly a drone is a process. There is nothing more reassuring than having the ability to let go of the controls and take a second to think about your next step (i.e. how am I going to navigate around this tree?) knowing the drone will stay right where you left it until you a ready to move. Or, if you are really in a pinch, another GPS-enabled feature could come to your rescue which is called…
2) Return to home– Another feature becoming increasingly common in mid-range consumer drone models is the Return to Home feature. As the name implies, the feature allows for your drone to automatically return to the point from which it took off in emergency situations like loss of signal from the controller or battery level dropping too low.
Why it’s useful: If you ever feel like you have lost control of your drone or it’s not flying properly, most systems allow pilots to engage the Return to Home functionality with the simple touch of a button. Additionally, if you lose track of how much juice your battery has, many drones with the Return to Home feature will override your controls and return to its point of takeoff automatically… which is extremely helpful if you run out of battery while flying over a lake:
3) Autonomous flight: As we have said before, the true potential of UAV technology is in the autonomy of it all. Autonomous flights are created by establishing GPS waypoints on your computer or tablet. Then you just say ‘go’ and watch as your drone flies all by itself.
Why it’s useful: Autonomous flight is what turns a drone into a tool. Once a flight route is determined and the drone is launched, the user is free to operate the drone’s payload (i.e. a camera) or just watch a live stream of data.
4) Object Avoidance: Building on the concept of autonomy, GPS capabilities can help limit your flights so that you don’t fly anywhere you don’t want to…or in places you shouldn’t be flying. For example, higher end Blade products come with SAFE flight technology which allows users to designate areas on a map where they don’t want their drone to go and a recent DJI firmware update prohibits GPS enabled drones from flying too close to airports and other restricted airspace.
Why it’s useful: Because flying in restricted airspace is illegal, flying near airports is dangerous and flying over your trigger happy neighbor‘s house could be hazardous to your drone.
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