How To Find A Lost Drone

Drone sitting on ground

Let's face it, people lose drones virtually all the time. I’ve done it myself many times. Sometimes lost in a tree, sometimes lost in the wind. I send it up too high, get disoriented or the wind grabs it and it’s gone. If you lose a drone, here are a few tips that can help you find it again.

Keep in mind, there’s no secret method or button you can push that will magically cause your drone to come flying back to you from wherever it’s gone. Instead, what follows are a few carefully thought out ideas and thoroughly tested methods for finding and recovering a lost drone. There is no guarantee that you’ll get your grown back, but I think these tips will at least give you a better chance.


Tip 1: Leave Your Controller On!

Spark Drone Controller


One of the best ways to locate your lost drone is by listening and trying to hear its spinning props whining away. Your first instinct may be to turn your controller off, since you might assume that having it wouldn’t do you any good. But this is incorrect. If you want to find your drone by listening for the sound of it, you need to leave the controller switched on so that the props will continue spinning. This won’t damage your drone, but it may be your best chance of recovering it.

Tip 2: A Little Forethought Helps


Drone In Air

Yes, if you have already lost your drone and are searching for it, this step won’t do you any good if you didn’t do it before your loss. However, if you are reading this prior to losing it – or if you manage to find it anyway – you should immediately affects your name and phone number somewhere on the drone so that if you lose it – or lose it again – someone finding the drone will be able to contact you so you can come get it.

While it’s often true, there’s no need to just cynically assume that someone finding your drone won’t try to return it to you. This has worked for me once, although I guess it depends on the neighborhood where you happen to lose your drone. But for the most part, you’ll find that the public is perfectly willing to call you up so you can recover your drone. Even labeling it after the fact will help protect you in the future.

Also, use common sense to avoid losing your drone to begin with. If it’s windy in your location when your drone is higher than 20 or 30 feet, just don’t fly. I realize that it’s not always easy to get an idea of what the weather is above the ground surface, but if you have any indications – such as movement in the trees around you – that it’s a bit blustery up there, don’t risk losing your drone by flying. Remember, just because it seems calm and still where you happen to be standing doesn’t mean that a virtual windstorm can’t be blowing only a few feet above your head. The speed of the wind tends to significantly increase as your drone gets higher, so keep this in mind when you’re flying. Following these tips while flying your drone can help.

Tip 3: Keep Track of Where It Was


Drone Flying

When I lose track of a drone I’m flying, I make a mental note of exactly where it was and what direction it was headed. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to get confused. This makes finding the drone after losing it even more difficult. Once you begin losing the drone, you should have been reducing the engines – although not cutting them off entirely – so it could come down quickly. Reacting correctly and immediately when you encounter a problem with your drone is an essential part of recovering it.

And while doing this, it is important to note roughly where the drone would have come down. This will give you your best reference point for potentially finding it once you start your search. And if you are aware of just which direction your drone was heading when going down, you can check out Google maps in your location and determine what structures or buildings might be in that area. This information can be vital in helping you recover your drone.

Also, be aware of another point: our brains tend to interpret a vertical distance as being larger than a horizontal one. This means that if your drone is 200 feet up when you cut the engines, geometry and physics tell us that it will certainly be fewer than 200 feet from you when it reaches the ground. It will almost certainly be closer than you think it could possibly be given the distance you thought it was – or perceived it as being – when it was lost.

In other words, there’s a good chance your drone is most likely not nearly as far away from you as you think it is. However, there is one exception to this point. If you have extremely strong winds at the altitude your drone was flying at, it is possible that it could have been blown a goodly distance away where you were standing. If this is true, then this tip won’t necessarily help you a great deal in recovering your loss drone.

Here is a very thorough video with some great tips on recovering a lost drone. 


Tip 4: Go on a Stroll around Your Neighborhood


neighborhood

In the following I assume that your drone was lost in a dense, urban environment. If your controller is still turned on, quickly walked in the direction you believe your drone went down. For every 10 yards walk, ramp throttle up a little. If your drone is – at that moment – inside your controller’s radio range, the props will begin spinning and whirring. You’re not attempting to get it back in the air at this point, since it may have incurred serious damage.

At this juncture, you’re just listening for the sound so you have a better chance of finding it. Of course, it’s also important to note that while your drone may seem like it’s extremely loud when you have it up close, the high-pitched sound it puts out actually quite hard to hear when it’s more than 30-40 feet away from you. This means that if you happen to be further away from the drone than 40 feet or so, even revving up the engines by your controller won’t necessarily allow you to hear the props spinning.

This in turn means that you should avoid wearing out the battery power you still have in the drone. After all, most roads have very limited battery power. So don’t rev the engine on full the whole time you’re looking for it. Just do the occasional quick checks 10 yards apart in the general direction that you believe it went down.


Tip 5: Create a Map of the Area


Map

I find that one benefit of wandering around the neighborhood in search of your drone is that you’ll get a better idea of how the neighborhood is laid out and the spaces where your drone might have come down. This can include the roofs of certain buildings if you were flying unusually high. It might even be useful for you to create an aerial map of the location where it went down and then break your map down according to terrain.

For instance, you can create a map to any number of apps. You can then open this map in Photoshop or some other graphics editing program and start making marks on the map to identify certain features to help you with your search. This can help you narrow the search by eliminating areas where it could not be or – if it is in those locations – you can’t possibly get it back in one piece. You could mark:

• Shrubs and trees
• Flat or slightly sloped roofs the drone might have stayed on
• Sharply slanted rooftops where the drone might have slid to the ground
• Bodies of water or neighborhood swimming pools
• Public roadways and walkways not covered by an umbrella of trees
• Privately owned lawns along your drone’s line of flight
• Upper floor balconies where the drone might have landed
• Enclosed courtyards with the drone made have landed out of sight

Making note of the slopes of rooflines can be helpful, since this creates on your map areas where you know the drone is not – although you’ll still need to look at the ground immediately around locations. In the average urban setting, once you take into account trees and rooftops, the type of space you will most likely have remaining where your drone could have landed would be a neighbors front yard/driveway, a sidewalk or a public road.

If your drone did come down in one of these spots, the odds are it will not remain there for very long. Someone will have seen it land – or crash – and will have probably retrieved it. However, if you move quickly you might be able to locate it and retrieve it before anyone else gets their hands on it. But don’t trespass in the process! This could place you in both legal and physical danger.

Tip 6: Don’t Waste Time!


I want to stress again that you’re going to have any chance of recovering your loss drone, you need to start looking for it as soon as you lose it. Even if you’re feeling a bit hopeless about the whole thing and don’t think you’re going to find the drone, you should set out immediately and look for it. Keep in mind, your memory of just where you lost it and where it went is freshest right after you have lost the drone.

In addition to this, the longer you wait to try to find your drone the more likely that it will be grabbed by a neighborhood child, torn apart by a dog or run over by someone’s car. Every second you wait increases the chance that it will end up in someone’s garbage. Waiting also increases the chance that you will forget the exact spot where you lost the drone. So, start looking at once if you have any hope of actually locating it.

Tip 7: Time to Put up Signs


If all of the above doesn’t work, canvassing maybe your last hope. I suggest printing up signs with a photo of your drone – including the time and date that you lost it – and ask your neighbors for help finding it. You could offer a reward, but since your drone may well be worth more than the reward it’s possible that whoever finds it will decide to keep it anyway. But on the other hand, it can’t hurt to try.

But these signs up as soon as possible in the area you lost the drone. The quicker you put up the sides, the better chance you’ll have that someone who finds it will contact you about it. Waiting even 24 hours increases the chance that someone will find the drone and either keep it or toss it in the trash. As desperate as canvassing the neighborhood in this way may seem, it’s worth a shot.

Tip 8: An Ounce of Prevention


This tip really isn’t so much about finding your drone now as finding it later. I have done it myself and find it useful. You might want to consider attaching a Bluetooth tracking device to your drone. If you can get to within roughly 75-100 feet of where your drone is, this device might be able to help you find it. Of course, if your drone was at a greater distance than this when you lose it, you’re probably still going to have to search the neighborhood.

Also, some of these devices can be set up in a way that – once they are separated by more than 75 feet – they will give off an alarm. This means that if it goes up high and gets more than 75 feet away, it will start beeping. This beeping will keep going until you get within range of the drone again. As far as I can tell, the only problem with such devices is that you can’t set it to go off when you “lose” your drone.

Instead, it starts beeping as soon as it’s out of range. This means the device has to be turned on from the start. You can’t say to yourself, “Oh no, my drone is out of range and I’d better turn on the alarm.” But given that drones often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and these little devices can cost as little as $25, it seems like a reasonable investment to help you recover your equipment.


Tip 9: Wallow in Despair


In the end, you may have to face the unpleasant truth that your drone is simply gone forever. For instance, if your drone landed on someone’s private property, you have no legal right whatsoever to simply go and retrieve it. Yes, you can ask the owner if they can give it back to you, but legally speaking they have no obligation to do this. Frustrating as this is, it is the law. And I definitely don’t want to have guns pointed at me or dogs chasing me over a drone.

Certainly, if you were flying your drone over a large body of water or small forest of tall trees, you might as well view it as lost. While it doesn’t hurt to wander around the woods or along the lake shore listening for it hopefully, realistically your chances of getting it back under these circumstances are pretty low. The most you can hope to get from the situation at this point is a lesson learned about where you should and shouldn’t operate a drone. If you registered your drone you might want to cancel your registration.

Conclusion


In conclusion, losing your drone is annoying and – if you don’t find it – extremely depressing. I put a lot of effort – not to mention money – into my drones and definitely want to hang onto them. You’re probably the same when it comes to your drones, which is why you’ll want to make every effort to try to find your loss drone. Following the above tips will give you the best chance of locating your equipment before it’s grabbed by someone else or entirely destroyed. Just keep in mind that you can’t go on someone else’s property to retrieve it without their permission.

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