We have a drone!

Actually, it’s quadcopter. A DJI Phantom 2 Vision + quadcopter. It shoots stills and hi def video.

We took the new toy with us on our recent visit to the Gulf Islands. Here’s a collection of short clips I put together from the trip. Watch it full screen!

Electronics and water don’t go well together. Especially salt water. So I was apprehensive about drowning the poor little thing. But after a few flights, it turn out pretty easy to fly and my fear went away (mostly).

I quickly learned the easiest way to launch and retrieve the Phantom was by hand. Power up, accelerate the rotors, and hold it ’til it flies. Upon return, hover close enough to grab onto it and power down the rotors. (see the end of the video)

mv Archimedes landing DJI Phantom 2 Plus

The Phantom is easy to fly. It is very stable. Advertised flight time is 20-25 minutes. I never flew for more than about ten minutes at time. It will easily fly farther and higher than I am comfortable with. I kept it pretty close. I know it doesn’t look like it in some of the shots, but that is due to the wide angle of the lens.

I’ll leave the details and features of the Phantom to DJI.

Here’s an edited still from Russell Island.

mv Archimedes at Russell Island

I did discover a few quirks using the Phantom. I doubt the designers thought much about them being used on boats when they were programming them. First, the Phantom uses GPS to know where it is in the world. It knows its home position when you start each flight. The Phantom has a programmable maximum distance and altitude from the home point. No problem when you are stationary, but when the boat is moving, it is easy to leave the Phantom behind when you pass beyond the distance limit. We left the poor little thing hovering at it’s limit a couple of times and had to go back for it. Not too big a deal, but something to remember when you configure the device. It is easy to expand the distance and reset the “home” point during the flight. I eventually learned that.

The second challenge is calibration. The Phantom needs to be calibrated from time to time. The Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) needs to know what level is. The compass needs to be calibrated from time time as well. In general, both are easy to do. But on a boat, calibrating the IMU is a challenge. It needs to sit on a flat, level surface for ten minutes or so. Not easy to do on a boat. So I had to take it ashore in Port Townsend. I found a level spot at the public dock. IMU calibration requires connection to a laptop. Compass calibration does not.

Calibrating the Phantom on shore.

mv Archimedes calibrating the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus on shore

Awareness of your surroundings and generally good manners are important. A Phantom has four spinning rotors that make a bit of noise. It’s not unreasonably loud, but most of us look for quiet places on our boats. I was careful to fly away from other boats and only mid day when the ambient sounds of the area exceeded the sounds of the flying Phantom. I tried not to be the obnoxious guy disturbing everyone else.

mv Archimedes at Spencer Spit

I am very pleased with the new toy. And I was able to pull some great shots out of the videos. A Phantom is not a cheap toy though. $1200 or so. Which is why I was a bit afraid of the water. It’s a bit scary from time to time, but it sure is fun.

mv Archimedes anchored off Port Townsend

For more information visit the DJI site.

There are also many videos on YouTube that may be of interest.