This is Why Finding a Decent Drone Is Difficult

Over the last few years consumer and professional-grade markets have become flooded with a multitude of drones spanning a wide spectrum of features, speeds, cameras, gimbals, and mobile applications. However, an important step in the process of buying a drone is looking into the reliability and quality of the company you are buying the drone from. When this step is glanced over, a particularly large investment into a decent drone could very well become an investment into an expensive paper weight.

 | Source: 3DR | 3DR's Solo Drone

| Source: 3DR | 3DR's Solo Drone

About a month and a half ago, I took a shot with 3D Robotic’s 3DR Solo Drone. Like all of the other major drone manufactures such as DJI and Go Pro, the 3DR Solo features all of the high-end features such as return-to-home, high speed and precision flying, auto take-off and land, and a gimbal for use with a Go Pro action camera. The drone is controlled with 3DR’s controller with connects to the drone through a wireless signal emitted from the drone, and the drone uses built-in GPS to act as a back-up incase the controller would disconnect from the drone mid-flight.

Now this is not an overview of the drone’s features. Setting the controller, drone, and getting 3DR’s mobile application to work on iOS was a painstaking process. Once I finally got all three pieces connected, the live video feed in the iOS application would crash the application altogether. The drone itself took 5-10 minutes just to get enough GPS signals to be able to take off, even in the middle of an open field. To fix the video crashing, I purchased another mobile drone application that did not work much better than 3DR’s solution.

During my second flight in the middle of an open field, I went to land the drone. The done landed fine and the motors turned off. I looked down at the controller for several seconds, however, when I looked back up, the drone and controller lost connection, the drone took off and began ascending at a rapid rate. I entered the button combination for the emergency shut off, but the drone continued to rise. Approximately 500ft into the air, the drone’s motors shut off and the drone dropped like a rock and crashed. Now the first thing to check, would have been the battery level, but the batter indicators reported at least 70% remaining.

In the crash, the gimbal for the Go Pro (~$69.99) was bent beyond repair. Including the gimbal, my Go Pro Hero 3+ Black Edition, housed in the gimbal, was bent and the mini-HMDI connection socket was ripped out of the camera when the connection cable hit the ground. Now missing the mini-HDMI connector and with a slightly cracked/scratched lens, the Go Pro Hero 3+ Black (~399.99) is now effectively not worth the cost to repair it. The drone’s internal GPS was also damaged in the crash. This was caused by the gimbal being pushed up into the drone went it hit the ground, snapping the GPS antenna and preventing any connection to GPS satellites, and thus preventing any flight with the drone. The drone is now sitting in my room, on a shelf, acting as a several hundred-dollar paper weight.

Now, 3DR claims to have a way to detect if the drone or controller was at fault for a crash, and would repair any damages to the drone. The warranty would not cover the Go Pro that I had housed in the gimbal, a several hundred-dollar camera. Another problem that I am also running into is that 3DR’s chat support team works only select hours and days during the week, and email responses can take several days. If 3DR did decide that the drone was at fault, and wanted to cover fix the damage, it could take months before I would receive the drone back, fixed and working.

Drones are becoming a fast growing part of modern technology. However, not doing the research on the quality and warranty that companies provide can lead to an expensive mistake, especially for first time drone flyers. If you do decide to pull the trigger, DJI is the company to go with. Their long-time quality and ease of use have been established over and over again. If you purchase the drone though a third party like Target or BestBuy, I would highly recommend purchasing their accidental damage coverage, as accidents with first time drone flyers is bound to happen, and ruining a several hundred-dollar drone on its maiden flight would suck. Now, my experience could be one in a million, but it must be taken into consideration.  

Best of luck to you on your future endeavors into the world of drones!