January 22, 2017

Droning Boy: the virgin flight

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Hello Kitty surprised me this Christmas with a present.  I had briefly talked about my curiosity in drones, but didn't think that a guy who sucks big time at video games and can't handle a joystick would be able to operate one properly.  I never gave it much thought.  Well, I suddenly found myself with a DJI Phantom 4, and frankly I was a little overwhelmed.

But after doing extensive homework and thinking about the circumstances under which I would most likely use a drone, I decided to exchange it for the brand new DJI Mavic Pro - which can be folded down and is incredibly portable.  It was backlogged and I had to pre-order it on New Year's Eve when I decided to return the Phantom 4.

This week I finally got the call I was waiting for, and picked up my drone.  I was eager to take it out for a test drive, and coordinated with Fergie - who had picked up his Mavic Pro a few days earlier - so that we would go and fly our drones together.

After an unexpected delay, we finally met up at the South Entrance of Tai Tam Country Park.  Fergie brought the whole family out - down to the dog.  After reaching the rest/barbecue area, the two of us set up our drones and launched them into the air.

After getting it up in the air and making sure I've gotten the hang of the basic flight controls, I sent the drone over the Tai Tam Reservoir towards the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam and filmed the journey.  I was still a little clumsy with the controls, which resulted in me spinning the drone around a little too quickly.  By this time the drone was obscured by the trees around me and I no longer had line of sight, and since I started without a full battery, my remote controller started beeping when battery level dipped below a preset threshold of 30%.  I hit the "return to home" button, and in a couple of minutes the drone flew back to my location and landed without a hitch.

With a fresh battery, I sent the drone up again to test out a couple of the more sophisticated flight modes.  First I tried Follow-me, which for some reason wouldn't work when the drone was below an altitude of 10 meters.  After I made sure there was sufficient altitude, it did kinda work, albeit a little slowly.  I got the drone to follow me around as I changed directions.

Then I tried out TapFly - which is where you tap a certain point on the screen and send the drone to that point.  You can also change the speed of the drone with a slider during this mode.  Now, I had previously set a maximum distance of 450m as a precaution, but I had forgotten about this restriction.  So I was a little frustrated when the drone automatically stopped with it reached this distance, even though I wanted it to go further and reach the Reservoir Dam.

The kiddies were getting hungry, so we packed it up and headed back towards the car.  I was encouraged to take a group shot of us with the drone up in the air while we stood on one of the bridges.  I guess that was a first for me... even though the Mavic Pro definitely has a Gesture mode designed for people to take selfies.

All in all, it was a pretty successful outing.  The weather was beautiful and sunny, which was perfect for flying the drone.  My own regret was that I was so occupied with making sure I could fly and control the drone that I forgot to control the camera and the video functions.  I totally forgot to tap the screen to autofocus the camera, and I also forgot to increase the exposure to compensate for the glaring sun.  Oh well, I'll do better next time!

P.S. The videos today were all shot in 4K, and when I got home I realized that the size of a 5-minute video would come to more than 2GB!  I'm glad I got that 128GB microSD card, then...

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