Drone Test – This time, it’s for distance

Recap of the last test

During the last test of the new Mavic Air, I found that it was me, the pilot that didn’t have the confidence to fly the drone around the block.  My general lack of knowledge about drone flight, coupled with a lack of skills created doubt.  I had doubt about my skills, and doubts about the drone’s ability to actually make the trip without suffering loss of communications to the controller.  And, given my inexperience with drones, I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen if the drone lost contact.  But, that seemed like it was ages ago, and with only a few more days of drone piloting under my belt, I decided to try it again.

I need a drone wrangler for this flight

As I thought about what might go wrong as I flew the drone around the neighborhood, I imagined the worse.  I imagined that the drone would lose contact with the controller, and it would crash back down to Earth.  Considering that we’ve got a number of trees in the neighborhood, it seemed like I would probably be flying in excess of 100 feet in the air, and although this drone is pretty hearty, I did not think that it would survive a crash to the pavement without severe damage.  So, I found me a wrangler, and we started the test.

Drone Wrangler; Who has that kind of skill-set?

To be honest, being a drone wrangler doesn’t require that much skill or knowledge, so the most important attribute that my Drone Wrangler could have would be trust-worthiness.  So, I picked my buddy Ralph as the wrangler, and at about noon today, we decided to do a test run.

How is the test being setup?

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of involvement in testing large-scale systems.  We would run all manner of functional testing, and also performance testing, and even integration testing, ensuring that all of the messaging between systems was correct, and tolerant of minor failures that were likely to happen during normal operation.  In this case, and while the drone is a very sophisticated piece of technology, this test would be based on answering a single, simple question.  The test run was going to consist of flying the drone around the block, monitoring the entire mission through the video feed that was present on my SmartPhone.  The video that comes from the drone is pretty high quality, so I had a good and clear view of what the drone saw from it’s overhead position.  Throughout the flight, the drone would operate at about 100 feet or so, with minor fluctuations, which were mostly due to my inclination to push my left thumb forward or backward, when I should have been flying at a fixed altitude.

Results of the test

Throughout the test you’ll see that my piloting skills are still under-developed.  Said another way, I need to keep practicing, but I am getting better, and I am getting more confident.  This test had me move the drone to someone’s front yard, just down the block.  I laid the landing pad on their front yard, and hoped for good results.  As it turns out, this location is in just about the exact sent of the block, so I expected to be able to communicate to the drone without losing signal, or suffering loss of control.  Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of interference in my neighborhood, and throughout the test, and certainly more in certain locations, I was receiving messages that alerted me to these high levels of interference.

The distance that the drone was located from me, as it flew around the block varied greatly.  But, the drone has pretty good telemetry, so I was able to see that once I was beyond 500 feet from the controller, with the drone about 100 feet in the air, I started to lose the signal, which translated into erratic, and jumpy controls.  Nevertheless, I never lost contact with the drone completely, although when I was at the maximum range, I found that the video was lagging from the actual flight, which caused me to over-correct, making my already jumpy technique even jumpier.

Thinking about using this drone for the World Tour

While I’m traveling around Europe and Asia, I will be in big cities, little cities, tiny towns, and extremely remote areas.  Flying the drone in the cities is probably a bad idea all around, but flying the drone in these small cities, or tiny towns should be just fine.  In particular, I’m imagining the usefullness of the drone in at least three specific scenarios.  First, I imagine that I’ll fly the drone out over the Great Wall of China, as the stretch of the wall that I’ll be visiting is pretty darn remote, but the nearby city probably has a population of a couple thousand people, at most.  Next, I imagine that I’ll fly the drone in follow-me mode, as I make my way accross some of the river crossings that we might come upon.  In these cases, I’ll launch the drone, put the controller in my tank bag, and ride across the river.  What could possibly go wrong?

And finally, I have a vision of arriving in Kyrgyzstan, where I believe it is our third night that I will spend the night in a Yurt.  In fact, according to my research, we’re staying in a Yurt Village.  So, try to imagine that our bikes will be parked next to the Yurts, we’ll be in the middle of nowhere, and I’ll launch the drone up, and out, using both the boomerang method, and the Asteroid method to record video.  I’m pretty excited about this, and can’t wait to see what the yurts look like from 250 feet above ground, with the mountains of Kyrgyzstan in the background.  Can you say awesome?

Introducing the video

The video that follows includes two separate drone segments.  First, you’ll see the drone’s journey around the block.  I’ve sped up, and slowed down the footage throughout the video, in essence, keeping the video intact, but compressing the timeline.  This relies on a feature within Adobe Elements Premiere known as Time Lapse.  I’ve also included a good amount of audio/music in the background, along with some more sophisticated narration.  For the narration, I would reduce the audio level of the music, start recording, and insert the narration into the video at precisely the right spot.  All of the video editing is pretty complicated, but I can’t thank Frank enough for helping me get copies of it, and Chris for suggesting it in the first place.

Beyond any doubt, this video editing s/w is truly awesome.  Each time I open the program, I’m able to find another feature that I manage to stuff into the video.  Which brings me to my last point for this post.

It’s ugly to watch the sausage being made

We’ve all heard the expression about making sure to avoid watching how the sausage is being made, especially if you enjoy the sausage.  In this case, you’re watching a grown man go through a learning process, which can be slow, and painful at times.  For sure, trying to get all of this technology figured out, to the point where I’m able to render videos of interesting topics is time consuming, and tricky.  So, I’ll thank you in advance for hanging in there, and hope that the quality of the videos is getting better and better.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, I hate to watch videos, or read blogs that are boring, and irrelevant.  So, I’m trying to make these posts interesting, and relevant to all of you.  It seems an impossible task to make videos relevant to everyone, but I’m giving it all that I’ve got (I stole this line from Scotty of Star Trek).

I hope you enjoy the video below.

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and is planning a trip through Russia and China. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.

Comments

  1. Hey, I sure I should have gotten First Grip credit or at least the un-glamorous Driver credit at the end of the movie. I’m on strike!

    1. Hmmmm,
      Excellent point. I should have listed you as Key Grip, or at least one of those lofty moviemaker terms.
      Next time, I’ll do it for sure.

    1. Thanks Ash,
      This morning I spent about 20 minutes filming my first set of tests where the drone would follow me. It’s a funny story, but I had mixed results.

    1. Lee, I’ve gone back and looked at the video, and now I see that there is about 2 minutes of extra video, which has just black-space. So, I’ll fix it, and re-render the video.
      thanks for the help.

  2. The most amazing feat was that you recorded this in the future!! (At least that’s what was in the credits) Boy, you’re even more talented than I gave you credit for.

    1. Hey Jim, I guess that’s the problem using templates that were created in advance. You’re right, it’s only 2018, not 2019. I’ll get it fixed for the next release.

  3. Cliff, Concrats! I thought for sure you were going into that tree.
    Keep up the good work. Your doing a awesome job. Of course we expect nothing less

    1. Hey Bruce,
      The drone has a feature called “Obstacle Avoidance” but to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve got it enabled or not. Nevertheless, I did manage to miss the tree, but that was because my wrangler in the X3 called me to tell me that I was tracking towards a tree. So, I lifted the little bird up higher, and continued on my way. As a matter of fact, while testing all of the various types of “Follow-me” features in the drone, I found that, once again, I almost hit a tree. So, it’s time to overcome my hesitation, and get comfortable with the drone flying a bit higher. Yikes!

  4. I’ve become a “Drone Clone” You’ve activated my “Follow Me” feature as well. Now I’m on your butt, Buddy

  5. Another nicely done blog post, Cliff! I love how you jumped into drones with such enthusiasm!!! 🙂 And you are really mastering that video editing quickly! Next, I highly recommend delving into the rules and regulations about where you can and can’t fly legally. Your comment about not flying in major cities on your route is a pretty good instinct. Most major cities have airports and hospitals. The last thing you want to do is endanger hundreds of lives on a commercial aircraft, or delay a medical helicopter crew bringing a patient in critical condition to the hospital heliport. Rules about how close to an airport or a helipad you can fly make perfect sense. But there are a lot of obscure ones like flying over a prison, flying too near a school, flying over a national park, or piloting your craft after dark. Anyway, poke around here for all kinds of pertinent info: https://www.faa.gov/uas/. Don’t forget to register your drone while you’re on the uas website. For guidance, I do recommend the B4UFly app, the UAV Forecast app, as well as the AirMap app. Last but not least, once you get down to planning your adventure, you should be aware of some major international regulations regarding drones: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1700/RR1718z3/RAND_RR1718z3.pdf. Of special note would be countries like Slovenia, Uzbekistan, and India where drones are flat out banned. And then there are countries that require your drone stay within your sight at all times during flight. You might find that list kind of interesting! But once you master the “dont’s”, you’ll be able to find all kinds of fun places to spread your little propellers and fly like the wind! 🙂

    1. Chris, thanks for a really informative comment. In fact, I’ve been researching which apps I’ll need on my phone, and which will help me understand my surroundings so that as I fly, I know that I’m in compliance. And you’re also right to point out that I have not registered the drone yet, but it’s about time. I’ll start looking into the information you provided later today.
      As far as the editing, I’m also really pleased with the progress there. I’m becoming more knowledgeable, and more competent, so although the editing is still too choppy, I’m getting more and more efficient, and am able to create the videos with less and less energy and time. For my trip, being able to work the videos fast and efficiently will be the key to publishing on a regular basis, with enjoyable content.

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