In the spirit of being as open and transparent with my experiments with the drone, I’m going to write up major crashes like the National Transportation Safety Board writes up real crashes. — Matt Waite
At about 5:30 p.m. CST Dec. 28, 2011 during a test flight to gauge the effectiveness of a new camera mount, the drone operator lost control of the aircraft while it was flying over his house. The drone was flying away from the operator and not responding to commands to turn away from the house. The operator panicked and the emergency shutdown signal was triggered causing the drone to crash onto the roof, slide off the back of the house and fall two stories to the ground below. A landing peg was broken off, and in later testing, the front facing video camera was damaged and inoperative, grounding the drone. A replacement hull will have to be ordered.
The flight occurred just after sundown, making the drone’s automated leveling systems unpredictable at best. The best that can be determined is that the drone lost contact with the ground and the horizon and began overcorrecting. The aircraft then reached the edge of the effective range, causing it to not respond to commands. Operator inexperience contributed to the severity of the crash in the triggering of the emergency shutdown switch over the house.
- Do not fly at night. The out-of-the-box Parrot drone’s reliance on the horizon and the ground to right itself makes night flying a no-go.
- Do not panic. Operator should have let the drone clear the house before shutting down. The hard setdown on the roof didn’t cause the damage — it was the fall from the roof to the back yard.
- While the use of smart phones and Wi-Fi is a tempting sell, the effectiveness of the smartphone as a control device and wi-fi as a signal technology is being called into question by testing. This is the second time during higher altitude tests that the control link was lost. The first time, the drone leveled itself at about 8 feet and stopped, allowing the operator to reset the control link and regain control. This time, the result was more catastrophic. High altitude use and highly reliable control is a critical component of drone journalism. If the wi-fi control link is suspect at high altitude, this bodes ill.
- Begin researching altering the AR.Drone to use more traditional RC controls. This would greatly expand the range and could increase reliability.