Here Lies…

King Bob.

A few weeks ago, I posted that my Bebop Drone, Stuart, flew away and drowned himself in the Columbia River.

Parrot replaced Stuart after a brief inquisition and a backhanded comment about where to fly (honestly, conditions could not have been more perfect for a flight). They sent another Parrot Bebop v1. In Stuart’s honor, I named it King Bob (yeah, I’m a Minion fan). This week, we did a good number of test flights to see if the Stuart-flyaway behavior would manifest itself again.

Today, after having completed a few hours’ testing over the last week, I did a FlightPlan test with King Bob, confirming of course that GPS locks were good. Actually, I have an obsessive preflight procedure as well and Bob seemed happy with things.

Took off, did a manual control for about 30 seconds, then engaged the flight plan that was meant to have Bob fly the four corners of the house at about 75ft AGL.

Bob did fine and made his way to the first waypoint.

Then things went wrong.

King Bob started drifting sideways from the first waypoint in a direction opposite the second waypoint, which was directly south about 150 ft. He departed very quickly to the Northwest. Within a few moments, he was at top speed, out of range, and falling.

We figure he can’t be more than a few blocks away and is maybe in somebody’s back garden. But we’ve yet to find him.

FreeFlight Pro had Bob’s last coordinates when he disconnected, which corresponded to where we last saw him in the air before we lost sight behind trees, houses, etc. This, at least, confirms that GPS had a good signal and was accurately reporting the position of both the SkyController and the Drone.

Rules out GPS signal lock as a contributing factor to the flyaway issue that seems to plague the v1 Bebop drones.

Someday we’ll recover King Bob’s airframe.

Maybe.

Takeaways for the next time I have a drone:

  • Some bright LED strobes – visible all round, both red and white – should be installed and used on any drone. Just like anti-collision lights on an aircraft.
  • If possible, an audible alarm should be used as well to track it down as well. The little motor-chirp on a Bebop isn’t quite loud enough to hear from more than about 50 ft away even in a reasonably quiet environment.
  • Visual and audible alerts should not use the flight battery.

Yes, the Bebop is a “toy” – and, I’d argue, so is every other sUAS. But that doesn’t dismiss the responsibility that the designers, developers, manufacturers, and even operators have to ensure it doesn’t present a risk to the safety of others. Therefore, I won’t own or fly any other Parrot products as they are demonstrably unpredictable.

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