Saturday, March 21, 2015

My first drone. My last?

I have to admit, I have been wanting a quad copter for years.  I tend to be a techie on the bleeding edge, a photographer, and a guy who loves cool toys.  This is nearly perfect.  Why don't I have one?  Or three for that matter?  I think I must be getting old because my tolerance for the bleeding edge isn't what it once was.  The quad copters of the past few years have become sophisticated pieces of flying science, with GPS-driven flight controls, on board cameras, auto stabilization, and more.  However....
  • The cameras were pretty crappy
  • The cameras vibrated and were very limited in where they pointed
  • Without very expensive, fragile add-ons, you couldn't see what you were photographing or filming.
  • The GPS controls went haywire every once in a while and your copter would fly off into the distance, never to be seen again.
I have been patiently waiting for things to get "good enough", whatever that means.  Well, they finally seem to be more reliable, with better cameras and easier controls. I may be getting ready to pull the trigger, spending some of my Planning Commission income. 

However, reading through the online discussions, it is obvious that these things are not simple to fly. There are thousands of stories about crashes into buildings, trees, and even people, quads lost in lakes or rooftops, and mysterious disappearances.  As much as everyone seems to warn you to get proficient using the computer-based training and start in big open fields with very simple flying, the urge is just too strong.  These are expensive toys to be crashing or losing.

I took some advice from some of the victims.  I went out and bought a little, light weight $40 quad toy.  It has a terrible little camera but the flight controls are fairly similar to the bigger systems. The idea is to learn flying on this. It is so light that even if you smack it into the ground, it doesn't do much harm.
The shoe is simply for a size comparison.  It is not used for flying. It may be handy for trying to knock the copter out of a tree though.

I have only played with it for one day, but the two complexities I have run into are wind and direction. Wind is fairly obvious.  As light as these are, even a slight breeze puts up a good fight.  Direction is the more obscure one. 

You have directional controls to go left, right, forwards and backwards, but you also rotate the quad to point where you want to photograph.  If I take it up and turn it 180 degrees to take a picture of me, now I have to remember that left is right and front is back.  That wouldn't be that bad, but now turn it 125 degrees instead.  Nothing is quite where it is supposed to be.  Now a sudden breeze starts blowing it towards a tree. You have to react instantly, instinctively.  Trust me, this is non trivial. 


This is my first photo taken from about 50 feet above our driveway.  This is really a stupid place to learn.  I am sure to put it on a rooftop somewhere. 

The goal is to get better driving and determine if I really will enjoy one of these things, both before I spend any more money.  I hope to share more adventures as I go.
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