Losing a drone is one of the greatest fears that any drone pilot has. When you fly your drone there is always the possibility that something will go wrong. It is only your ability to anticipate and recover from incidents and accidents that will help you stay out of trouble. However, even the most robust and experienced pilots still run the risk of having a drone go missing in action. In this article, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about what happens when you lose your drone. We’ll also cover the important features of your drone that you need to always have on file and will talk about the steps that you need to go through when (or preferably if) you lose your drone.
When you lose your drone, it is now your responsibility to recover it. Recovering a drone requires that you look at the data you have collected, whether that is GPS or video and photo data, and start to scour the last known location for the drone. If you cannot find it, you can turn to online groups such as Lost and found groups and local Facebook groups to alert people to the loss of your drone. Putting up a small reward may also help motivate people to get in contact with you.
What happens when you lose your drone very much depends on the way that you have lost your drone. In the next section will go through each of the potential reasons you have lost your drone and a quick overview of the best steps to take.
What happened to it?
There are many reasons why you may lose a drone. Perhaps you have lost it while flying, maybe it has flown off all on its own or perhaps it has been stolen. For each of these situations you must do different things to make sure that your drone gets returned to you safely.
Lost while flying
Losing your drone of flying is one of the most common ways that drones are lost. To protect yourself against losing your drone of flying you need to make sure that you have plenty of battery and that you are flying within your skill level. Sometimes, if the situation or the environmental conditions just aren’t right it is far safer to land and wait for the conditions to change rather than risking your drone for the sake of getting the image or video that you want.
Ran out of battery
We all get very excited when we are flying our drones. Most drone manufacturers will have a live progress bar which shows how much the battery is depleting in real time as we are flying. Sometimes it can be very easy to get lost in the moment and not keep track of this very obvious feature.
DJI drones will automatically keep track of how far they have travelled and will start to return to home based on the calculations that they make during the flight so that the drone can return to its takeoff spot with battery to spare. The only time this really doesn’t work is if you have taken off and flown with the wind to the furthest point of your mission. Your drone will have to fight the wind on the way back and this could mean that you run out of battery quickly.
If you have lost your drone because it has run out of battery you should be able to look at the cached images and video of it just before it has landed and while the drone is running out of battery you should try to land in an obvious place which is easy to get to and identify.
Crashed into something
If on the other hand you have crashed into something you may not have the best opportunity to know exactly where your drone has landed. Many modern drones have the ability to sense their surroundings and as the technology gets cheaper this is more and more commonplace. However, some drones do not have sensors or have a limited number of sensors which means that crashing into something while flying sideways is always a real risk.
If your drone signal suddenly stops it is likely that your drone has had a fatal accident and has fallen some distance to the ground. This could be a bird, it could be that you have clipped overhanging obstacles or it could be another unexplained issue.
In this instance you would need to look at the last known location and go as close as you can scouring the area in a systematic way to look for evidence of your drone. If you have crashed into something is likely your drone propellers and arms are damaged so the prepared for sending it back to the manufacturer or having a go at a DIY repair.
Took off by itself
It may seem strange but some drones take off by themselves. I don’t really understand why it happens and there could be a variety of reasons behind it. But as drones become more and more intelligent and driven by artificial intelligence this could be a possibility. Some people on my YouTube channel have noted that there drone has done this.
Once again, going to the last known location or taking a bearing and heading in the direction that you last saw your drone moving in will be the only thing that you can do to try to recover your drone has taken off by itself.
Because drones are relatively expensive and a desirable gadget for many people it can be that your drone has been stolen.
If you suspect that your drone has been stolen you should report it to the police immediately. This will give the police the best chance to track down your drone and they will also give you advice for how best to proceed as they know your local crime patterns better than anyone else.
When you first purchase a drone you should write down the serial number and the model and make of the drone so that you can provide the police with as much information as possible.
It may be also worth it to include a small sticker or use a UV pen to write your ZIP Code on the drone as proof of ownership.
Can you track a stolen drone?
DJI has no way of tracking your drone through the serial number or its GPS location after it has been stolen.
The only way to track a stolen drone is if the smart device which is used as a screen on the remote controller has also been stolen. If it is an iPhone or an iPad you can use Apple’s location services to find your drone via the smart device.
You can also consider adding a GPS tracker to your drone if you want the ability to track it down.
What do you do if you lose your drone?
If you lose your drone here are the steps that you should go through to make sure that your drone is returned safe and sound and that people are incentivised to help you recover your drone.
The first thing that you should do if you really should drone is to stay still and remain in the same location that your drone took off in.
This is because a number of drones have a return to home function. After about one or two minutes of disconnection from the remote control the drone will return to its GPS takeoff location. If your drone does this automatically you may hear your drone returning to you after a few minutes. If you have flown relatively far away from the landing spot this could take up to 10 minutes for your drone to return.
Staying still and waiting for your drone to return to you is the most difficult thing to do but in a lot of cases it is the automatic flight features and smart return to home features that save our drone.
Information you should write down about your drone
The first thing you should do is collate all of the information you know about your drone and where it was last seen. This includes things like:
- Serial number – each drone comes with a serial number which is either on the arm or the body of the drone. Take a note of this as it is the unique identifier which will remove any ambiguity about whether or not this is your drone.
- Make and model – make a model of the drone is the next best identifier most people do not have an idea about the types of models available so you should only write down which is obvious to a non-technical minded person. For example, each drone has markings on the outside and some of them contain the manufacturer and drone model and make. Others do not.
- Any distinguishing features – if you have got custom decals or you have customise your drone in any way this will also be useful for someone who comes across your drone to know that it is yours.
- Where it was last seen – highlighting where your drone was last seen and its last known location will help people identify and connect the drone to you.
Mark the last known GPS location on a map
If you have just lost your drone one of the best things you can do is to drop a pin of the last known GPS location on a map such as Google maps for Apple maps. This will help remove any uncertainty about exactly where you were and where your drone was as time goes on. Also, if you need to share with the police or any other agency about the last location of your drone you will have the exact location dropped via a GPS pin on a map.
Review any cached video
Quite often, there is live footage streamed to your remote control and smart device as you are flying. You can tell the drone at two store a certain amount of information and live stream data which is stored in its cache.
Go back into the app and review any of the photographs or video footage which will help you identify the potential landing spots of the drone. Remember to download this video file directly to your phone so that the cache does not get automatically overwritten or deleted.
Go to the last known spot
Once you have identified the most likely position either through the last known GPS data or the last known footage you should head to the spot (if it is safe to do so) to start the search for your drone.
Once you get to the suspected landing area you should sweep the area in a systematic fashion so that no places are left un-searched. If you have a group of friends with you they could or lineup and then walk slowly through the suspected search zone. Of course, you have to have pretty understanding and enthusiastic friends to be able to do that.
Check local facebook groups
If you need to leave the search area without your drone you should immediately head on to local online communities such as Facebook groups to alert people to the fact that you have lost your drone and that they should keep an eye out for it.
Making sure you include all of the important information which was mentioned above and you can even include a small reward which will motivate people to actually respond to your post.
Put out flyers
One of the last things that you can try to do is put out flyers which will help people in the local area become aware that you have lost your drone. Typically, we fly our drones in lovely areas such as where people may walk and hike.
Placing a number of posters around entrances to walks and hikes and also in the adjacent suburbs, if any, will help improve your chances of success. If you find your drone, please remember to keep a note of where the posters are located and go and remove them. No one likes a flyer or poster litter bug.
One of the best defences against losing your drone is to be on the offense from the moment you purchase the drone. In the next section we will go through all of the proactive steps that you can go through to make sure that your drone gets returned and that if you are to lose it is have a peace of mind that you have tried everything you could have possibly have done to get your drone back quickly and safely.
Proactive steps to help your drone get returned
Here are some of the simple proactive steps you can take that don’t cost a fortune and only take a little bit of time to make sure that your drone is returned safely. Going through these steps will also mean that if your drone gets lost you will have a better peace of mind and more confidence that it will be returned.
Use a GPS tracker
The simplest way to make sure that you don’t lose your drone is to purchase a simple and lightweight GPS tracker that can be found on amazon.com.
The only thing you have to worry about with a GPS tracker is that it will securely attach to your drone whilst also being lightweight enough that it does not severely impact your flight time by adding too much weight and using up extra energy.
Take a photo of your mobile phone number
One of the things I always do is have a photograph of my details on the drones send card or internal memory. My preference is to stall the photograph with my details on the SD card as it is easy to remove and does not require the drone to be turned on.
I take a photograph with my phone of a piece of paper with my name and phone number on the front. I also include a little note saying that if the drone has been found to contact me at that number.
Depending on how expensive your drone is you may want to consider adding a reward value to that note. That is optional and completely up to you. A reward will make sure that the person who finds it will be extra motivated to make sure it returns home safely.
Name your SD card
There is also the option to name your SD card so that it displays your phone number when it turns on. That way, it means that the person does not need to download or look at any of your personal information to immediately be presented with your details.
The issue with taking a photo of your mobile phone number is that the person needs to go through your entire photograph history to find the photograph with your details on it.
This makes it much easier and obvious for the person who has phoned your drone.
To change the name of your SD card simply inserted into your PC and change the name in the windows file manager. All other file manager if you do not use Windows. It’s surprisingly easy to do and could be the thing that saves your drone from being lost forever.
Write on your drone
Another thing that you can do is to use a white or black permanent marker to write some of your details underneath the battery of the drone. Simply by putting your phone number underneath the battery pack means that it will be protected if it comes into contact with rain but is obvious if someone finds your drone.
If you are not comfortable writing directly onto your drone you can use a small sticker to attach your mobile number in the same spot. This is particularly useful if you are thinking about selling your drone at a later stage.
You could also consider using a UV pen which means that you cannot see it until you pass UV light over the ink.
Use the Find my drone app
Find my drone is a free app that has been designed to connect your iPhone to your drone. They do this using the popular MAVLink protocol. If you are forced to land your drone some distance away from you this app will determine its GPS location and distance from you. It has an inbuilt compass that can direct you to the drone saving you the time and effort required to sweep an entire area.
Features of FIND MY DRONE include:
- MapView with drone location plus device location shown
- Current System Status i.e. RTL (return-to-launch), STABILIZE, LOITER… etc.
- FIND MY DRONE will remember the last received coordinates even if the drone’s power fails
- FIND MY DRONE view includes;
- compass indicating your orientation and direction of the drone from your current position
- current battery voltage information (if you have an active lock)
There are many other apps in the App Store for iPhone and android so you’ll need to find one that works on your phone and with your model of drone. Normally I just search for the most popular ones and give them a go to see if they fit my requirements.
In this article we have been through what happens when you lose your drone and all of the steps that you should go through to make sure that your drone is returned safely and quickly.
Being pro active is one of the best things that you can do to make sure that you are prepared if your drone does go missing. But the good thing is there are plenty of options for you if you have not prepared for your drone becoming lost.
I hope that it never happens to you and making sure that you fly within your capability in good conditions will minimise the risk of you losing your drone.