Nearly lost my drone today

So I went skiing at Bristol today. I brought my drone alone just in case it wasn’t too crowded. However I made several mistakes:

  • I didn’t bring my reading glasses, which makes it hard to see what’s on the controller screen
  • I didn’t preload a map of the place on the controller
  • I didn’t recharge the batteries even though it’s been long enough that (I now know) the batteries purposely discharge to 60% or so
  • I didn’t realize that the wind was very strong above the treetops, and do something about the battery low or loss of signal RTH (Return to Home) function to do something other than rise up to 300 feet and get blown away
  • I didn’t set the home point somewhere where there were no trees overhead

So anyway, it was doing a fantastic job following me. I kept glancing back because the Mini 3 Pro is so quiet you can’t hear it unless there’s no other sound around. Even people who skied past me didn’t seem to realize there was a drone behind me. (Obviously I had it flying high enough that it wouldn’t hit anybody) But with about 300 meters left on the course I suddenly realized it wasn’t following me. I couldn’t read the messages on the screen, but I suspected it had done an RTH.

I quickly continued on to the home point, and it wasn’t there. I was looking up and I couldn’t see it or hear it, although if it was still up at 300 feet I probably couldn’t do either. Eventually I realized that the video was just pure white and it had a message about the motor stopping, so I realized it was probably crashed in the snow, but it might have been in a tree top.

I took off my skis and hiked a direct line through the woods between the home point and where I’d last seen it, scanning the snow and tree tops all the way. Then I hiked back to the home point along the trail, still examining the tree tops and snow to either side of the trail.

Around this time I remembered that the controller had a “Find My Drone” function, which I quickly activated while the controller continued to tell me how close the drone’s battery was to dying. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the manual for this, and I wasn’t sure what I was seeing on the map. Again, I forgot to preload the map so all I had was a triangle and a dot with a line between them. I started to ski backwards around the trail, and the line seemed to be getting shorter, so I thought the dot was me. Eventually, however, I realized there was a third dot, and the reason the line was getting shorter was the third dot represented me (or rather the controller) and the map was zooming out to show that third dot as it moved further away from the other two dots.

Applying my masterful powers of deduction, realized the triangle and dot with a line between them probably represented the drone and the home point. I quickly returned to the home point, and that told me that the dot was the home point. Using my amazing orienteering skills, I headed in the direction of the triangle, and found my drone sitting in the snow beside one of the downhill trails. Phew. Can’t wait to see if the video looks any good. I’d love to do this at Cummings Nature Center if they ever get any snow.

Update: It turns out that because I didn’t have my reading glasses and couldn’t see the screen, I didn’t actually record any video during the important part. I got some video of my trying to get my drone set up to follow me, some still pics, and then nothing until a weird little bit of video evidently recorded during the RTH where I have about a second of a view over the valley taken from very high up, and then everything gets very over exposed and you can’t make out anything.