The DJI Phantom quadcopter is a pretty awesome tool for photographers and filmmakers; however, one negative component of the Phantom is the frequent complaints from those who have lost their Phantom as a result of a flyaway.
While the cause of Phantom flyaways is a constant source of debate, there are certainly things that can be done to minimize the risk. Still, that may not be enough.
According to several reports from Phantom users, every setting can be made by the book and the Phantom can still be affected by an uncontrollable flyaway.
We’ve previously looked at ways to minimize the risk of flyaways; however, there is one more measure you can take that improves the likelihood of recovery in the event of a flyaway . . . .
Use a GPS tracker.
A popular model right now is the TK102 GSM/GPS tracker, which can be DIY mounted on a Phantom or other RC aircraft fairly easily. If you can access a 3D printer, you can even download a custom mount to attach to your Phantom landing gear.
The great thing about this device is that it is equipped with a GPS receiver and a GSM radio. You can purchase a pre-paid T-Mobile SIM card for $20 to install in the unit. When you experience a flyaway or a crash, you can call the tracker’s number and it will reply to you with a text that contains the exact GPS coordinates. You can then plug those GPS coordinates into Google Maps and get the exact location of your drone.
You can order the T-Mobile SIM card online here.
To get the right card and pre-paid setup for the TK102 GPS tracker, choose the following options:
- Select the Standard SIM card for a Phone (it’s $10)
- Go to Checkout
- Choose Add Accessories
- Add a $10 Pre-paid card
- Complete checkout
When you receive your SIM card and pre-paid mobile card, you can call T-Mobile to activate it. Alternatively, you can take the card into a T-Mobile retail store with your TK102 tracker and have them help you with the activation. You will then need to pay $10 every 90 days in order to keep the number active, but it adds minutes and those don’t expire. Ask a T-Mobile rep for more details on this. There is also more details in this Rocketry Forum thread about the process.
The reason that people are going with T-Mobile over an AT&T pre-paid card for the GSM device is because AT&T’s pre-paid cards expire after 30 days, while you get 90 days with T-Mobile. Of course, if coverage is spotty in your area for one over the other, then you may have to go with the one that fits your needs even if that’s AT&T for $10/month.
Pinpointing the Location
If you have a flyaway and it ends up in a heavy brush or otherwise cluttered area, you can add on a small RF or Bluetooth keyfinder device. Then, when you get in the area reported by your GPS tracker, you can activate the keyfinder for an audible beep to pinpoint the unit’s location.
These little RF units respond to the transmitter when it is within 60-80 feet.
While the GPS tracker solution is not foolproof (you need cell coverage), you should definitely be better off with it than without it. If you do a lot of flying with your Phantom or other quadcoptor/octocopter, then it is probably worth the small investment to add a GPS tracker.
There are not many small and lightweight options out there right now and the TK102 units seem to be the most popular among the hobbyists. However, I suspect that we’ll be seeing more devices like this as the market space for drones becomes more and more crowded. More people flying them means more people will experience flyaways and will then be looking for solutions.
Have you used a GPS tracker with your drone? Do you think it is worth the added cost and configuration for the peace of mind? Sound off in the comments below.