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Flying a drone in extreme cold

Discussion in 'Brights, Gizmo's & toys' started by dewi, Nov 13, 2016.

  1. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    Perhaps an odd question for a Sunday morning, but does anyone have experience in flying drones in extreme cold?

    I know the cold will effect the battery life, as it does with other battery operated equipment, but I'm more concerned about the effects on the internal sensors of the drone and the camera equipment.

    Currently using the Parrot Mambo and the Skywalker quadrocopter as practice drones.. both relatively cheap drones and meant for a bit of fun rather than aerial photography... but my goal is to upgrade to something more substantial when I'm better at controlling them, bolt on a camera and get some interesting shots.

    The Parrot Mambo has a camera, but it is fixed so you have to be above whatever you want to take a shot of... even then its a poor quality picture.

    Would be interested in any advice anyone could offer on the effects of cold weather on drones though... have visions of losing an expensive drone in a pile of snow.
     
  2. pteron

    pteron Acutorum Opifex

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    No direct experience of drones, but as an electronics engineer, we design to a temp spec depending on end use.

    Normal industrial range is -25 to 85 deg C, so I'd expect that your drone will be ok, plus power usage tends to raise the internal temp of the components anyway. Do you have the operating specs of the drone?

    The battery is the thing I'd be worried about, they dislike low and high temps. Any good charger will refuse to charge a Li Ion battery below 0 deg C - the packs have an internal temp sensor (or at least they should!)
     
  3. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    I haven't got operating specs on the drones I have, but I don't blame them for not having full specs in with the drones... they class them as toys, even though they have much of the same technology as the larger more robust drones and the operating controls are virtually identical.

    For instance, the Parrot Mambo is sold with what is essentially a peashooter... its a bit of fun, but it can be removed to increase performance and battery life.

    I didn't know that about the battery packs. At the moment I get around recharging by having multiple batteries I can swap out... the real world battery life of both drones is about 5 minutes of flight time despite what is advertised, so without the extra batteries you don't really get a chance to learn anything about how the drone flies each time you use it.

    It is that difference, the 9 minute use advertised to the 5 minute real world use that makes me a bit hesitant to believe operating specs... hence the reason for asking. Lots of people on the net report sensor failures in low temperatures, but few are specific. Drones for Dummies offers a few tips, but most of it is common sense like drying the battery if you drop the drone in snow.
     
  4. scarfell

    scarfell Forager

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    Anything below zero will cause the battery to reach "empty" voltage very quickly, perhaps even lower, causing permanent damage to most lithium type batteries; Ni types will also appear drained below zero (min voltage not 0V), although i'm not entirely sure how fast; i do know that we had to change radio pack batteries 10+ times a day while recording (at just below zero), as opposed to 3-4 times a day in studio
     
    #4 scarfell, Nov 13, 2016
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  5. Jaeger

    Jaeger Full Member

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    Aye Up Dewi,

    I think that you are right to question this - not just re the batteries but also with regards to the electronics.

    A few years back when we had a decent amount of snow over winter I was taking a series of photographs throughout a couple of days in low-ish temps - 0 - -4ish.
    One of the cameras (Panasonic Lumix) showing half battery charge packed-in suddenly.
    A fully charged replacement made no difference.

    Several days later exactly the same thing occurred with a Fuji Finepix.

    The batteries were later used on other cameras with no problem. The two failed cameras wouldn't even restart when connected up via a mains charger indoors so I assumed that it must have been either a failed electronics or a failed programming issue due to the cold. Neither Pana or Fuji had an answer.

    Notably I've had trail cams out in similar conditions for months on end with no problems?
     
  6. Robson Valley

    Robson Valley Full Member

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    Plastics have a big coefficient of expansion related to temperature.
    In cold weather, it's quite concievable for camera parts to pull apart from eachother.

    The speed of most chemical reactions changes by a factor of 2X for each 10C change in temperature.
    So from +20C to +10C cuts it in half, then from +10C to 0C cuts it in half again for 1/4 of the juice that you had at +20C.
    Mind you, I've always assumed that this was a good predictor of battery performance. Maybe not so.
    I'd predict that a drone at -10C won't have much flight time at all.
     
  7. baggins

    baggins Full Member

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    just be aware, a couple of years ago at a mens downhill skiing championship a drone used for overhead footage suddenly lost all power and hit the earth with a big splat, just missing the back of a skier. in the report after, the battery, which had been fully charged, died due to the cold (about -15). An expensive loss if it's your new toy.
     
  8. Bob

    Bob Forager

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    Certainly with commercial drones it is considered good practice to keep batteries warm until the last possible moment (ie fitting) in order to preserve battery life. This is normally achieved by keeping them in a warm vehicle so doing a similar thing by keeping your batteries inside your coat would be beneficial.

    A drop-off in performance is inevitable unfortunately with current battery technology. New technologies are supposedly being developed which may offset the current issues but until these are available your best bet is to build in a safety margin. If a battery normally gives you a 20 minute flight (fixed wing) aim for a 10 minute one. Don't push your VLOS limits (400 ft vertical, 500m level distance) and design your flight in line with CAA guidelines to stay 50m away from people, buildings and transport links. That way should your drone unfortunately drop out of the sky it won't be an issue for others.

    It is possible to fly rotary wing drones in low temperatures (the British Antarctic Survey use a DJI Inspire 1) but use a 50% safety margin to stay safe. Hope that helps.

    Bob
     
  9. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    This is exactly what I want to avoid. I'll gladly accept the loss of the drone through my own stupidity, but if it drops on someone, it won't be good where we're going.
     
  10. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    Reading through, I think the best bet is to test the drone in real world conditions before I go... looks like I'm heading up Snowdonia with a drone.

    I'll be completely honest, what I really want is some great aerial shots of the guys going to Sweden this next January... it'll be a unique thing to bring back as a keepsake for all involved... and I have an urge to use a drone for something useful rather than just doing aerial stunts or trying to get more than the maximum speed out of them.

    The commercial drones are incredibly expensive considering the same technology is in the cheaper drones... I'm presuming its the framing and chipset that causes the price jump.

    Anyone who is interested in a play around, the Parrot Mambo is about £100 now and you control it through your smartphone (you can get a proper controller, but hardly worth it for the amount of airtime you get with a single battery)
     
  11. Bluebs4

    Bluebs4 Full Member

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    iv flown as cold as it gets in the uk only problem is batt drain maybe 20mins instead of 25mins on a dji phantom 4 set up .Camera has been good no problems with 4k but then i drop most media down to 1080
     
  12. Dave

    Dave Hill Dweller

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    That would be a great idea.
     
  13. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    If I get it right Dave, we'll have an amazing picture (maybe even video if I can get the right batteries) of our trek.

    I've been using the Skywalker for nearly a year, the Parrot Mambo is a little more advanced.... controlling it shouldn't be an issue. Keeping it in the air... another matter. Paranoid that the cold is going to kill it working, so plotting a trip to Snowdonia now to run some basic tests.
     
  14. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    What temperatures have you been flying in?

    1080 should be good enough for what I want to do... are you using the standard camera?
     
  15. Bluebs4

    Bluebs4 Full Member

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    the camera is standard but its the best in the range , lowest temp iv flown is probably -1 or 2 on a calm day no wind as this will add wind chill but using from a warm van to sub zero temps can cause fogging and the plastics to become brittle so no heavy landings . i let the drone/camera adapt to the temp and when finished i just wrap the whole gimbal in a cloth hand warmer
     
  16. scarfell

    scarfell Forager

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    You can buy, or even build a battery heater, relatively simple technology (peltier and a thermometer at its simplest); of course that means draining the battery further, but it'll probably still give you more time in the air at -10C

    Bare in mind you only need to heat above 0C, go above 30C and you risk reversing the problem; higher again and the battery could explode


    Some components will not handle low temps, but these days most do, i suspect that most dead electronics die because the cold alters the voltage in the circuit enough to damage IC's (eg simple resistor with lowered resistence can alter feedback for a voltage regulator and burn out chips further along)
     
    #16 scarfell, Nov 13, 2016
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  17. dewi

    dewi Full Member

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    Looking at temperatures between -22 to -3... will probably be deploying it from inside a rucksack after trudging through the snow for a couple of hours.

    I'm still pretty poor with my landings, especially with any sort of side wind, which is probably going to be a factor where we're going.

    If I try to insulate the drone, I'm adding weight, reducing the battery life more.

    Does the Phantom allow for presets on altitude, vertical speed etc?
     
  18. scarfell

    scarfell Forager

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    What you are hoping to do really requires specialized equipment; at -22C things are going to freeze very very quickly, even if you were to strictly keep batteries out for only 5minutes at a time (time from taking out of inner clothing to flying to back inside clothing), i'm not convinced you'll do them any good.

    Suggest you find a wildlife photography forum, might be lucky enough to find some one who knows how to achieve this...hopefully within your budget; but these extreme photographers charge allot for a reason lol
     
  19. Robson Valley

    Robson Valley Full Member

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    I'm a user, not a flyer.
    Rather than reflect upon the possibilities, why don't you all talk to Canadian drone pilots who are always familiar with -10C to -30C weather?
    I'll bet good money that they have some ideas.
     
  20. mrcharly

    mrcharly Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    My experience of torch batteries on bike lights is that batteries that had a 3hr life in 10C, drop to under an hour at -10C. That's good quality NmH batteries. I think Lithium is similar.
     

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