The 10 Best GPS Drones
A Brief History Of GPS And How It Works
The path to the advent of GPS first started when Russia launched Sputnik 1 into orbit in 1957. It was the first man-made satellite to be sent into orbit, and without it, GPS would never have been possible. While it may have been Russia that launched Sputnik 1, George Weiffenbach and William Guier, two American scientists, can be credited with figuring out that its position could be tracked using the Doppler effect. Days after Sputnik 1's launch, Weiffenbach and Guier soon realized that by analyzing the Doppler shift of it's signal as it passed, they could determine it's location. Soon after, they also realized that by reversing their method, they could derive the position of the Earth-bound signal receiver.
After Weiffenbach and Guier's discovery, the U.S. Navy began work on a satellite navigation system they dubbed the Transit system. In 1959, they launched their first prototype satellite, Transit 1A. Unfortunately, it never made it into orbit. Undeterred, they went on to successfully launch the satellite Transit 1B in April of 1960. By 1964, the Navy had five satellites in orbit and officially put the Transit system into service. Over time, the Navy improved upon Transit by adding Timation satellites, which utilized atomic clocks for accurate time keeping, into the system. This greatly increased its positioning accuracy. Starting in 1973, to further improve satellite navigation technology, the U.S. government began launching a series of 11 more satellites into orbit, which marked the beginning of the NAVSTAR global positioning system. Over time, it was expanded to the 24-satellite system we use today.
Each satellite goes around the Earth two times per day, following a specific path. As they orbit, they send time-stamped location information to receivers on the ground. Using the time stamp of the sent information and the time it is received, the receiver can determine how far away the satellite it is. Using this information in conjunction with the same information relative to at least two other satellites, the receiver can obtain its 2D location on Earth. If the receiver is in communication with at least four total satellites, it can obtain an exact 3D location. With all of this information, a GPS receiver can also determine other data points, like a user's speed, distance to destination, and bearing.
The Many Benefits Of GPS Drones
Now that we know GPS can be used to figure out an Earth-based object's location, bearing, speed, and more, how exactly does this apply to drones? And more importantly, what is the benefit of having a drone with an integrated GPS?
If you have a nano drone and only fly it in your home or other small enclosed places, then there is no need for your machine to be equipped with a GPS. On the other hand, if you like to fly in wide open spaces where there is a chance of losing sight of your drone, GPS is a must to ensure you never lose it. You might not realize this, but drone flyaways, as they are called, happen all the time. In fact, according to a poll of 774 DJI Phantom pilots, almost one third reported experiencing a flyway incident, with 122 of them not being able to ever recover their drone.
From faulty firmware upgrades and signal interference to operator error or being thrown off course by the wind, drone flyways can happen for a variety of reasons. If your device is GPS enabled, it will be able to establish its position and make its way back to you using the auto return home feature. Even if this feature malfunctions or your machine runs out of battery power, a GPS-enabled drone will have transmitted its location to you so you can go and retrieve it on foot. This also means that if a mischievous dog or nefarious individual happens to abscond with your drone, you'll be able to find them, as well.
Another useful feature of GPS-enabled drones is geo-fencing. A geo-fence is a virtual perimeter you define using GPS coordinates. You can set it to either prevent your machine from leaving the perimeter, or to notify you via text or e-mail if it leaves. You could even set up a geo-fence perimeter around your home, so you'll know if a child or other family member tries to take your drone out for an unapproved flight.
If you are an aerial photographer, you'll definitely appreciate how GPS can help you take better photos and video. With a GPS-enabled drone, you can instruct it to hold steady in its current coordinates, allowing you to focus on camera work instead of splitting some of your attention to piloting.
What To Know Before You Take Off
If you payed attention to any of the news regarding drone piloting in 2015 and 2016, you may have learned that the FAA created a rule that required any drone operator to register their machine before flying it in an open space. Later on, a federal judge ruled that the FAA overstepped their bounds, stating that drones fall under the jurisdiction of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. In the end of 2017, this decision was again overturned, requiring operators to once again register any drones weighing over 0.55 pounds, even if they are only flown for recreational purposes. Since drone piloting laws seem to be constantly changing at the moment, it is best to double check with the FAA regarding which are currently in effect before taking your new drone out for its inaugural flight.
Whether registration laws are currently in effect or not, there are still some safety guidelines set forth by the FAA that have always remained unchanged. Drones, and all unmanned flying devices for that matter, must always give way to manned aircraft. Pilots must also keep them below 400 feet in elevation. Users cannot fly drones over large groups of people, sporting events, or in the vicinity of emergency response teams. They must be kept within sight of the naked eye, and cannot be flown while the operator is intoxicated. Flying within five miles of an airport is illegal, unless prior permission has been granted by an air traffic control official at said airport.