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Boat launch – key points to remember

Boat launch can be nerve wrecking. And, if you do it wrong, they may cost you the drone. While the saying that practice makes perfect is completely true here as well, there are number of settings, actions and skills that will help to reduce risk even in the initial phase of getting to grips with the boat launches.

1) RTH procedure – dynamic home point

This is one of the most critical settings for boat launches. In the settings of the RC, you will see screen that looks similar to the below. There should be an option to update the home point. Not all drones and not all apps support this feature, but without it flying from boat is a lot more risky.

If you cannot see this, there might still be an option to update home point manually while you are in flight by dragging the home point to required location (where the boat is currently or nearest land). Updating to landing on nearest piece of land is probably safest way to emergency land anyway. Check your app and your drone flying over land and moving before you attempt this on boat. Whatever you do, make sure that you do NOT use the “Land” option as emergency. Your drone will auto land at 10% anyway, there is no need to make it land sooner.

2) Geofencing – not this time

Geofencing or distance lock is often a good idea, but not when you are flying from a boat. The reason for that is that when the geofence is reached, the drone begins to hover and does not respond to commands until the it is back in the geofenced area. With boat moving, it might take a while to get it back into geofence area. Drone will respond to RTH command – another reason to send this correctly.

3) Hand launch and hand land

Invest some time in practicing hand launching and hand catching the drone. Easiest drones to hand catch are any of Phantom series as you can easily grab it by the landing skids.

The Mavics are a bit more difficult to catch because they have nothing to grab onto, but since they are small, they are probably safer to practice on. You will need to disable the bottom sensors (if your drone has them) as they will not perceive the hand as “suitable to land on” and will attempt to move away.

This may in turn cause the drone to crash into the boat. Bottom sensors should be disabled when flying over water in any case as the reflection may disorientate the drone and cause positioning errors.

4) Allow for boat drift

Unless your boat is anchored it will be moving or drifting. Even when it’s anchored, some movement is likely. You have to be aware of the direction of that movement and carefully chose the position to launch the drone. If the boat is drifting or moving back, launch from the front. If it’s moving forward, launch from the back.

The boat drift may cause the drone appear to be acting erratically and uncontrollable. In fact – this is not the case. The drone is holding the GPS position and it’s the boat movement that is making it appear like it’s moving. If you have ATTI enabled drone, you may want to use ATTI mode to take off altogether and only then switch to GPS.

Make sure you have space and make sure the props are spinning and you feel the drone taking off before you release it. Release the drone slowly while pushing the left stick up to gain some height.

5) Keep the drone in sight

Flying within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) is the legal requirement that is so frequently forgotten. And not without a reason. With DJI claims that their drones can fly 10 km and more, one would think that this is what law allows… Regardless of whether you normally comply or not, keeping the drone in sight while on a boat, can literally keep you out of the water, especially when you start seeing things go wrong.

On my first boat launch, I nearly lost my drone. Boat was moving fast. The drone was tracking the boat. I was watching the screen, not the drone. Then the boat drifted out of sight. To make things worse, I lost RC connection with drone set to hover. it took me a while to regain control, by when I was almost out of battery life. I managed to land my drone on an island and went to retrieve it afterwards. Luckily – there was land nearby that I could get to. Keeping eyes on the drone would have been kinder on my nerves.

6) Interference

Interference is bad news at any stage, but having your RC signal or video feed lost while flying off the boat is particularly risky. Be aware of any radio, cell phone and wifi towers round you. Not only those ones on land, but also those on vessels. If you fly close to port area, the big transport vessels are likely to have their own transmitters than may cause interference (this beside the fact that in most cases you would not be allowed to fly there anyway…). Masts and steel structures can also cause signal loss, so be careful in ports and close to platforms.

7) Watch out for battery life

As you probably noticed by now, launching and landing are two most critical activities when flying from the boat. For that reason, you should give yourself plenty time to land the boat. You may need to adjust and readjust the position few times and you definitely do not want your drone to start the critical battery auto landing routine.

The landing should be initiated at approx. 40-50% of battery life, which means that you should finish whatever maneuvers you are doing and start bringing the drone back probably at around 60%. Of course it depends on whether you can already see the drone and whether you are far or close to the land. Do not push the limits to far, especially if you have not done many boat launches. Things can (and DO!) go wrong right at the end.

8) Land in sight

Unless you are experienced with boat launches, I recommend that you do your boat flying relatively close to some accessible land. You may go even further and set your home location there (you don’t actually have to land your drone there unless it enters the emergency routine). In the reel below, I luckily was close enough to the land when I lost connectivity and map view.

Final thoughts

Do not overestimate yourself and your capabilities. Practice on dry land before you attempt the actual boat launch. If things go wrong – DON’T PANIC. Having a spotter always helps. And – watch out for masts, lines and other small and narrow parts of the boat!

Always make sure that your settings are right for the specific flight!

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Insta360 invisible drone – first hand feedback

Do you remember this set up?

I bought Insta360 invisible drone on Black Friday sales last year, despite the not so good reviews. The reviews were not so good for few reasons. I mentioned them in the post here. Main one was that the system was causing GPS loss. Although I prefer to fly with GPS, being a qualified pilot I am able to fly in non GPS mode, so I did not mind so much. There were other concerns, like lack of ability to do what the set up is supposed to do, quality of flight and wear on the drone, quality of footage.

I decided to give it a go, because I like testing new concepts. Having couple of Insta360 cameras I knew the quality of their cameras is very good. If the set up did not perform well as aerial mode, I was going to rebuild it, or convert to normal 360 camera. The two lenses together with the core module and battery can function without the aerial contraption that holds it on the drone. I was considering the FPV version, but it was not available in South Africa at the time. Being quite impatient when it comes to my “toys” I did not want to wait.

Insta360 One R aerial mod for Mavic Pro


So – how did it perform?

Quite excited, I immediately put it on my drone and send it in the air. The flight wasn’t too bad. GPS kept coming and going, but the drone was relatively controllable. Drone was holding the position – although only with 6 satellites. The set up is front heavy, I had to hand launch it, otherwise it would tip over. The flight is not as smooth as without it (not a surprise). From my logs it was clear that the motors we under some strain.

After taking some footage, I looked at it and… I ABSOLUTELY HATED IT! Stitching was bad and videos suffered from jello that was quite annoying. For a while I thought that everyone saying how bad this product was was right. Even that particularly rude (and lacking 360 videography knowledge) admin of one of DJI forums, that called me a sucker.

I put it away for a while and started to come up with concepts to rebuild it. But you see – I’m also quite new in the 360 and VR field. So I started educating myself on processing of 360 footage to try to make most of what I had. And I read that a lot of stitching and jello is actually fixable. After downloading the footage I re-processed it in Insta360 Studio on my laptop, instead of my iPad. Surprisingly at this stage – I was able to eliminate all stitching errors. I had to fine tune the stitching methods manually. For whatever incomprehensible reason, the default preselected stitching for aerial mode was producing WORST results.

Stitching is on the horizon line. It is invisible after fine tuning the stitch settings. No drone either πŸ™‚ The stitch quality is maintained through most of the video . Unedited photo from video footage.

For photography and time lapse , this really is a great product. As good as regular Insta 360 One R. The jello effect in videos is whole another story – it has as much to do with the settings of the camera, as it has with how the camera is attached to the drone. But with 360 camera attached at the bottom of the drone, I have less of a jello. With this set up one lens is on top and the other at the bottom – fixed directly to the drone. This causes some vibration. I’m surprised that Insta360 did not come up with some sort of dampers to absorb the vibration. Overall, to certain degree, jello can be fixed in warp stabilizer in Premiere Pro and few other video editors – I have not managed to do it yet though. Below footage is completely unstabilised and suffering from all the jello. It was actually shot at 30fps, which adds to the jello. It is better to shoot 360 video at 50 or 60 fps.


Who is this set up good for?

The fact that the drone with this “jacket” is prone to losing GPS, clearly points that it is not for everyone. Certainly not for typical DJI pilot (hence the worse opinions coming from the mentioned DJI forum). It is also not for someone who wants instant good results, as fine tuning all those settings can be quite tedious. But unless you are prepared to hang the 360 camera from the drone and later remove the drone from footage in post production (which also takes some time and tweaking to make it good and natural), there are not many other options.

For people that are using the footage on social platforms in form of “tiny planets”, jello and even stitching errors are not going to be visible. Even with reframed videos, you can make jello less noticable visible by directing focus onto the action. Where you really don’t wand the distraction in form of jello and stitching errors, is when you post to 360/ VR platforms. For those platforms you will need to make effort to fix the footage. Either by removing the drone from it (unless you really want it there…) or by fixing the jello in post production.

Overall – I grew to like this awkward looking contraption on my drone and I do use it, although in my view the product is unfinished. I think that Insta360 still has some work to do on making it better and more independent from additional work processes after the footage is taken. They seem to be heading in the right direction though!

If you would like to give Insta360 products a try (not just this one) and find my blog useful, please use my affiliate link. And, by the way – Insta360 One RS is out πŸ™‚ have a look below!

https://www.insta360.com/sal/one_rs?insrc=INR60U2

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Crash or Fly away drone “post mortem”

Having a drone crash or a fly away seemingly without pilot’s fault is not a pleasant experience, but rather than pity on it, take this as an opportunity to learn. Besides – understanding what happened increases your chances of successful insurance or warranty claim.

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Why you must know how to fly in ATTI mode

atti

DJI has dominated consumer drone market some time ago and since then have been a market leader in the consumer drone sector. And for a very valid reason, that is ease of use. Their drones have so many sensors and smart features that anyone can pick one up and learn to fly it in less than an hour.

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Top risks while landing the drone

You would think that once you launched and flown drone, landing will be piece of cake, right? And most likely it will be – unless, you are constrained. So what are the constrains that cause cause issues and increase risks while landing?

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Top risks while flying the drone

white seagulls near water

Most of the launch risks remain during flight, although some will be reduced. All the risks while flying will depend on where you are flying. The orientation you did before the launch will come in handy now.

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Top risks while launching the drone

Although consumer drones nowadays “fly themselves” there are still quite a few risks while launching that you need to take care of. As with any risk assessment, you will get better with time. You will find more and more risks each time you fly πŸ™‚ not necessarily something you want, but that’s just how it is!
Even if you have all your drone settings right, there are still things you have to watch out for . The list below covers main risks during launch (although a lot of them apply also for flying and landing).

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What is pre-flight check and why you need it?

Drone pre-flight check list can be a very complex or a very simple process. Everything in it depends on what you are flying and what for. Commercial drone flight check lists are the ones most complex. This is because those records get audited at various occasions, such as applications for certifications, insurances etc.

For private and hobby flights, especially flying small drones where risk to others is very low, the list can be very simple. But it still should be done, as it can save you your drone when things go WRONG.

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