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A small drone that you can enjoy without worrying about regulations - Choosing a small drone and pilot training Vol. 2

Small drones that you can freely fly without worrying about the law

In Japan, new rules concerning drone flight were set out by the updated Civil Aeronautics Law that went into effect from December 10th, 2015. Although these regulations tightened the rules by making it a requirement to get permission when flying drones at night or outside of your field of vision, they were not applied to drones under 200g or indoor flying, preserving a certain degree of freedom.

In other words, as long as you are “flying a less than 200g drone indoors”, you can still fly freely without worrying about the law.

Although it could be said that the real thrill of drone flying is taking footage in spectacular outdoor landscapes, flying small drones inside is also unexpectedly fun. Furthermore, this indoor flying also serves as preparation for outdoor flying, so it’s a training method that can be recommended to beginners.

Whether they are big or small, the fundamentals of drone flying remain the same, so it is actually preferable that you start small and once you are proficient enough in flying a small drone, you move onto a bigger size. The most high-end models capable of shooting 4K video can cost over $850, so you really do not want to be crashing the first time you fly it.

This article, which serves as the second part of our “Choosing a small drone and pilot training” series, uses the small drone that we introduced in Vol. 1 and shows you how you can practise flying it indoors.

A palm-sized small drone - Start your pilot practise from here (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)A palm-sized small drone - Start your pilot practise from here (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

There are even small drones that can be piloted with FPVThere are even small drones that can be piloted with FPV

The basics of basics in drone piloting - Hovering

The very basics of piloting drones is maintaining a steady height by hovering.

As hovering using small drones, it is actually much more difficult than you would expect, and takes a while for you to get used to it. The trick to mastering hovering is usually to get a feel for your drone’s quirks.

Since cheaper drones aren’t fitted with functions like GPS and pressure sensors like the higher-end models, they aren’t able to hover automatically and if you leave them they may end up hovering off. You need to be able to get to grips with your drone and know to turn it to the left if it tends to drift off to the right and vice versa so that it stops in the same place.

In drone piloting, there is a small technique to fix the quirks of your drone called “trimming”. By using this technique, it becomes much easier to hover. If your drone tends to drift to the right, you can fix this to some degree by pressing the left side of the left-right switch, located beneath the controllers right joystick, several times.

Trimming is carried out on the switch to the bottom and left of the right joystick (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)Trimming is carried out on the switch to the bottom and left of the right joystick (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

If your drone tends to drift forwards, try pressing the bottom side of the switch to the left of the right-hand joystick, as shown in the photo, several times to fix it.

By the way, as this author usually flies in Mode 2, you need to bear in mind that all of the explanations concerning drone piloting assume that you are also flying in Mode 2.

In Mode 2, pushing the left joystick up and down will make the drone rise and fall respectively (Throttle), and pushing it left and right will make them turn left or right on a horizontal plane (Yaw). Up and down on the right joystick will make the drone go forwards and backwards (Pitch), and left and right will make it roll left or right (Roll).

The first barrier to drone flying is “Head-in”

Once you have mastered hovering, you should practise moving the drone forwards and backwards, left and right. If the drone flies forward when you push the control joystick forward, then you can fly it intuitively and it shouldn’t be too hard at all.

However, if your drone flies backwards when you push the joystick forward then it becomes a whole different ball game. Here, the forward direction for the drone means going towards the pilot (you), so backwards, forwards, left, and right all become inverted. This is called “head-in”. As the name suggests, this means that the front of the drone faces you, and once you completely master this way of flying, then you can be considered to have mastered the basics.

The normal direction of movement. The blue lights are in front and the red lights are to the back and you can fly intuitively (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)The normal direction of movement. The blue lights are in front and the red lights are to the back and you can fly intuitively (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

For head-in, all the controls have become inverted (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)For head-in, all the controls have become inverted (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

Since there are several ways to master the head-in control system, I’m going to introduce a few.

First up is coming and going in a stright line.

If you are indoors, use a table or chair as a marker and simply fly the drone in a straight line from your position to the marker, do a U-turn, and bring it back. It’s easy to get the drone to your marker, but you will find it more difficult to get the turn and return journey right. Nevertheless, you have to practise this until you master it.

Once you’ve got the hang of the U-turn, it’s time to try a figure of 8.

Place some markers in front of you and a little further back and fly in a vertical figure of 8. The trick to flying a nice figure of 8 is to get a feel for the curves.

Right and left turns for the drone are made possible by changing the direction of the drone as you move forwards. In Mode 2, you need to go forward by pushing the right joystick forward and then pulling the left joystick forward either left or right at the same time to make the drone turn left or right.

What you should know about curves, however, is that the faster your drone is going, the more the centrifugal force acts upon the curve, making it so that you can’t turn as you wanted to. Therefore, you have to tilt the drone into the turn direction a little with the right joystick as you change the drone direction with the left joystick in order to get the propulsive power to combat the centrifugal force. By doing this you can distribute the centrifugal force and turn how you want to.

For example, when turning to the right, as you tilt the left joystick to the right, also turn the right joystick to the right as shown by the arrows in the photograph below, to nimbly turn.  Of course you also want to keep the drone moving forward, so the right joystick should also be tilted forwards.

The trick to judging curves (for a right curve) (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)The trick to judging curves (for a right curve) (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

When you can do the vertical figure of 8, you should also switch to trying a horizontal one.

How to play with a small drone

It’s going to take a bit of practise to be able to do the vertical and horizontal figures of 8. So to stop yourself getting sick of flying by repeating the same moves over and over again, I’d like to introduce some games you can play to lighten your mood a bit.

  • Beer contest drone battle - Beer can version

You will need a can of beer and a small drone.

Place the can of beer on a table and from a position 2m away, try and land the drone on top of the beer can.

Though it looks simple, landing a drone on a beer can is pretty hard! (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)Though it looks simple, landing a drone on a beer can is pretty hard! (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

Though this premise might sound simple, it’s actually extremely difficult to land a drone on a space as small as the top of a beer can. As you can gamble your beers with your friends in this game it’s bound to turn into a riot!

If you don’t like beer then by all means try this game with any other kind of canned drink!

  • Beer contest drone battle - Beer bottle version

Once you can land the drone on top of a can, it’s time to try the bottle.

Here you need to try and land the drone on top of a bottle. As the landing spot is actually smaller than the drone itself, this drastically increases the difficulty! If you can’t perfect your powers of concentration, you’ll never land it on the top. But when you do manage to do it, that victory beer will taste all the more delicious.

Landing a drone on top of a glass or plastic bottle is a Herculean undertaking (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)Landing a drone on top of a glass or plastic bottle is a Herculean undertaking (Photograph from ORSO Inc.)

If you need to use a bottle to hand, you can use a beer bottle, a wine bottle, or any bottle as long as there is sufficient space for the drone to land.

2016 is fast becoming a year full of drone races as seen with March’s $1 million prize World Drone Prix in Dubai and now followed by October’s World Drone Racing Championships in Hawaii.

There’s also talk of drone racing being added to the motor sports division of the Olympic Games and even further possibilities of drone racing widely penetrating into sports in the future. The practise techniques using small drones that I introduced in this article can be applied to drone racing, so please consider using this practise as a starting point for building or buying your own racing drone to compete in genuine drone races in the future.

Translated by Carley Radford

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