Sunday, 29 May 2016

Droney McDroneface

This is the start of a series of posts on drones.

Some may recall I got a Parrot AR ages ago, It was not easy to fly, rather flimsy, not good video, and not good in the slightest gust of wind, so hardly played with at all. If anyone wants to buy it - just ask.

However, at the weekend, I made the mistake of going in to the Apple shop while my wife and daughter were in Primark (it seemed the better option). I only wanted a lightning cable. Well, I left with a DJI Phantom 4.

I have to say the difference from the Parrot AR drone is unbelievable!

It is much more stable, much better picture, much easier to fly (has proper dual stick controller connected to phone/iPad, not using the iPad itself), way better in wind. It really does what it says on the tin!

The problem with drones are the rules! The Civil Aviation Authority and the Air Navigation Order. They are a bit complex, but basically there are restrictions flying near people and property. So short of finding some field somewhere you don't get to do much legally with the drone.

Well, I may have done a quick test flight (after getting hobbyist insurance on-line). Just up around down, from my property. Of course, instantly, my nosey neighbour came round (before I had even landed), asking what the rules are for drones now, and so on. I am not 100% sure if that is allowed. There is a "test flight" exception in the rules, and one related to property you have control over, but it may be stretching a point. I convinced him it was fine :-)

Sorry CAA, please don't prosecute me - I'm going to do it right now...

What that means is taking an approved course, with theory and practical tests, and then applying for a permission for aerial work from the CAA (for 12 months). Once I have that, subject to the rules on safety, and proper operating procedures, and so on, I will be allowed (from CAA point of view) to fly near buildings, and do things like aerial surveys of people's houses and stuff. I'll need insurance as well. I'll be able to do the flights commercially too. I'll need to consider any DPA issues and registration. Whilst I think it is obviously hassle, as it is a 4 day course, I am thinking I'll go for it. It will be a new skill ("certified drone pilot" sounds good). A&A already sells photographic services, why not start selling aerial photographic services, at least locally. With any luck I can pay for the drone and course with some work. I may even have two pilots on staff...

There will be a lot more on the process of getting training and permission in future posts. It will be a few months as I need to go do some proper practicing (in a field) first, and book the course, and do a practical test, and then apply for the CAA PFAW. I'll post more on this as I go.

In the mean time, just a few points on the drone itself. We did go find a deserted car-park with no people around, and permission to be there, and had a bit of a play well away from any nosey neighbour.

I have to say, one of the most impressive features is the tracking mode - I can point at someone on the screen on the iPad and tell it to track them, and it does - hovering, flying, and directing the camera. It has built-in collision detection and avoidance, and just flies itself. It also has GPS, and in the beginner mode was even smart enough not to follow someone anywhere near the road (restricted area!). Very smart.

The "home" mode is good too - using GPS, it shoots up like 30m, flies over everything and lands back at the start. And it can do that on loss of signal automatically.

The 4K video camera is excellent quality too.

So, assuming I maintain the motivation on this, more posts to follow and a new A&A service in the making...

19 comments:

  1. How high can you fly it before you have to follow rules? Is two meters OK? 10 meters inside an enclosed space?

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    1. Good question, AFAIK inside is fine, but now idea if min level before CAA come in to effect at all. Will have to look.

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    2. If I understand the rules correctly, there is no minimum height before the rules apply.

      If it is a small unmanned aircraft within the definition of the Air Navigation Order, the rules apply, and this will cover most hobbyist drones.

      When flown for hobbyist used, much of the ANO does not apply (art. 253), but some core safety-based rules do still apply.

      One of the requirements is to fly with "direct, unaided visual contact". References seem to be to 400m up and 500m away, but I have not found a clear source for this. Clearly not a problem for flying in a living room, unless you have one hell of a living room, or a lot of obstacles...

      If you are going to fly it within 50m of any vessel, vehicle or structure, you require a CAA permission, and there is no obvious exemption for flying a small drone indoors, but one would have to hope for a realistic approach to enforcement, even if the CAA did find out.

      If you have a larger drone, then more rules apply, and if you want to use a drone of any size for "aerial work", it requires a CAA permission, irrespective of height.

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    3. The "Application for Operation of a Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) in UK Airspace" defines "Visual Line of Sight" as "within 400ft (vertically) and 500m (horizontally) from Remote Pilot" but no clear statutory basis that I have found yet.

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    4. And I can't find a definition of "aircraft" either, and so presumably these rules apply to paper planes and those polystyrene build-yourself throwable models too...

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  2. Your link took me to the USA website where they were selling the Phantom 4 at $1,399.00, which roughly exchanges to £957.00. However after changing the country to UK it seems they are retailing it here at £1,299.00. That seems quite a substantial mark-up for the UK market. If you were in the US they'd even give you same-day delivery with on hand training in set up and use.

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    1. $1,399 may be £957, but after you add 20% VAT you get £1150. Add a bit more to get a currency buffer, since they can't reprice it every day as the exchange rate changes, they're going to want to pick one price and stick to it. Then add Apple Store markup, and £1299 seems reasonable.

      (Apple Store has the ability to see the products before you buy, take-it-away-today convenience, fancy decor, mostly helpful staff, some sort of warranty, and a guarantee that you're buying the genuine article and not a Chinese knock-off. You may or may not think those things are worth paying for, but they certainly cost money so if you choose to shop there then you have to pay for them. If you choose to buy online then you don't get most/all of those things, but you probably pay less).

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    2. Surely it's only priced according to what the market will bear and generally usa has lower prices as their market is not the same as the uk

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    3. On the UK price issue, don't forget that published US prices exclude state sales tax (which can be avoided if buying out-of-state) but the quoted price will be subject to VAT here, which can't be avoided, bringing it to £1148. Still a mark-up but not quite as much as it first appears. There may also be import duty - not sure about that.

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  3. What does the caa course cost..?

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  4. I'm in favour of the rules. The only time anyone flew a drone near me, they managed to fly it straight into the side of my head.

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  5. Course is £1500
    Read CAP722

    https://www.firstpersonview.co.uk/blog/fpv-drone-pilots-guide/laws-of-the-air/

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  6. Your 3D printer(s) will come in handy when owning a drone. I've seen a lot of them on Thingiverse e.g.
    https://www.thingiverse.com/tag:dji

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  7. We're having an evening about drones at the Open Source Hardware Users' Group on the 16th June at the BCS near Covent Garden. http://oshug.org/event/50

    I'd be great to have you ask the speakers a few difficult questions if you happen to be in London on that day.

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    1. Interesting. I'll be in Vegas, but sounds fun.

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  8. If you're in the vicinity of Oxford any time I've got a field you can practise in...

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  9. While it’s exciting to fly a drone during your leisure time or for commercial reasons, it is good to appreciate the risks. People around and the surrounding environment can pose some serious issues if you’re not careful or you don’t respect the drone flight rules. See more http://mydronelab.com/blog/drone-flight-rules.html

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    1. That looks US/FAA based and UK rules are different.

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