Personal Drone: a Gift idea

By Lu

October 18, 2016

More citizens are using drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), for personal recreation uses, with more functions at lower prices. If you plan to buy one for the coming holiday seasons, please find the following description, precautions and government regulations for the use of personal drones.

Introducing Personal drone

Drones today are the more advanced remote- controlled toy helicopters which hobbyists have flown for many years. Two types of drones are most popular:

  • Toy drones: simple, easy to use fun toys to give users first-hand experience of controlling remote planes.
  • Camera drones: ready to fly drones with stabilized, remote-controlled cameras for shooting high quality video (a high definition video camera) and still pictures (a separate camera) at aerial angles.

A third advanced type is racing drones for enthusiasts in drone racing. It uses a First Personal Viewing (FPV) system where pilots use googles to view camera feeds in controlling drones as if they were sitting in the cockpit.

A drone is usually piloted from the ground by its user with a radio controller. Some drones have smart functions, so that the users need not fully engaged in controlling their drones all the time. These functions include self- stabilization and autonomous flying along programmed positions in the sky.

Propellers, Battery and Controller

Drones are made of light robust materials and have multiple motors or propellers. Most of the personal drones sold in the market have 4 propellers and are therefore called as Quadcopters. They can fly even if one of the propellers fails. Powerful propellers generate sufficient lift for the drone to carry a heavier load such as a camera.

A removable battery is attached to give power to start and keep the propellers spinning, so that the drone can fly in the air. For camera drones, the flight time is limited by the battery power for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Flight Controller, the central brain, is used by the pilot to launch, navigate and land the drone. It communicates with the drone using 2.4 gigahertz radio waves assigned by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The controller can be a gamepad, a tablet or a smartphone depending on the functions that need to be controlled.

Electronics to control flying and landing

A Global Position System (GPS) chip inside the aircraft indicates its location to the controller. It also records the takeoff spot of the drone, so that the drone can return unassisted to its starting spot.

Other chips can indicate the height and orientation of the drone in the air space. They can keep the drone aloft at a certain height (e.g. to take photos), set by the pilot in the controller. If stiff winds move the drone around, the electronic mechanism can help to adjust and maintain the aerial vehicle in the same height and positon.

At the end of the flight, the drone will be programmed to land slowly and return to its take-off spot.

Beware of risks imposed by drones

Drones can accidentally collide with stationary and moving objects in their flight path. A crash will cause damage to the collided objects. Damaged pieces of the drones and objects fall on the ground and may injure pedestrians nearby.

The injuries will be serious to spectators at crowded events when drones fly and crash with each other.

To diminish risks of crashing, some new models of drones equip with software that can detect and dodge obstructions.

Government regulations on drones

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in December 2015 that owners of remote-controlled recreational drones are required to register in a national database. They will submit their names, home address and e-mail address.

Registration applies to drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms), including loads such as cameras.

FAA finalized the operational requirements on June 21 2016. Owners are allowed to operate during daylight only, with drones within their sight at all times. Owners should remember to fly their drones below 400 feet altitude and keep their speed below 100 miles per hour.

Never fly near airports, stadiums or sporting events and never fly near emergency response efforts (e.g. personal drones interfere efforts to put out wildfires).

Added protection from owner insurance

Owners will never know if their drones will encounter accidents. It is prudent to protect themselves with liability insurance and protect their investment with damage insurance.

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(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / nasir1164Check with insurance companies whether home insurance policies can cover personal drones as personal properties.