All across America, drones are crashing into trees and rooftops. The $500-plus dollar skytoys are frequently flying away from their owners, landing in lakes and marshes and urban neighborhoods, never to be found again. Lost drone posters line residential neighborhoods like the missing dog fliers of yore. Have you seen America's drones?
"People complain about 'flyaways' on the forums all the time," one drone owner tells Valleywag. Flyaways happen when drones either lose contact with its remote or simply fly away inexplicably, with the failsafe, which is supposed to return the drone "home" in case of failure, also malfunctioning.
Manufacturers say it's user error, drone-owners usually say it's a manufacturer defect. Others blame it on "noobs" not knowing how to fly the damn things. But no matter what the reason, drones frequently do their own piloting.
Jimmy's ar drone lost control and flew away and apparently landed on some lady's roof and now the police are at our house
— ＬＯＲＤ ＳＡＶ (@savamander) September 2, 2014
My Parrot drone lost signal with my phone and flew across a field on its own in the dark. This is how the machines will take over.— Patrick O'Rourke (@Patrick_ORourke) September 8, 2014
It took off and started to climb, soon I realize that the Phantom was not responding to my control inputs. It seem to respond only to up and down, but it was drifting away from me. I was in the jungle, so it drifted and then descended into the trees in the distance. I lost my GoPro Black and my video transmitter. We searched and searched but never found it.
Even with all of these safeguards, several experienced users have found out that the DJI Phantom can still flyaway on its own and completely fail to respond to control inputs. Photography Bay reader Darren Kelly recently sent me the below video describing the flyaway problem that resulted in the loss of one DJI Phantom and GoPro into a lake. He purchased a second DJI Phantom to replace the one he lost and experienced the same flyaway issue, although this time he steered clear of bodies of water during his trial run with the new unit.
In San Francisco's Mission District, where drones can be regularly heard buzzing about during events and weekends, two drones have been lost in the last week just within a few blocks of each other.
Did you or your friend find a drone on your roof in the Mission near 23rd & Harrison????? It belongs to my brother. PLEASE @msg me!— daisy barringer (@daisy) September 8, 2014
Pilotless drones dropping to the ground is becoming a regular occurrence across San Francisco. Earlier this year, Bold Italic contributor Amber Schadewald found a lonely drone outside her Western Addition house, and it wasn't immediately claimed by its own:
It was Saturday night and with a belly full of Thai takeout, my boyfriend stepped outside to smoke. From atop the stoop he noticed a weird blinking bot in the middle of Fulton Street. Was it an alien hovercraft? A child's toy? It turned out to be a little of column A and a little of column B – a fancy schmancy drone; a $1200 quadcopter. [...]
When no one showed up that night to claim their machine, we decided to pull the battery and turn off the wi-fi, mostly as a precautionary measure against any sort of phone-home protocol. No one wanted to find that thing banging around the room and clawing at the door in the middle of the night.
Many drone owners report never finding their quadcopters after a flyaways. And even if they find it, there's a chance it'll be perched at the top of a tall tree, where it's nearly impossible to retrieve.
But fortunately for San Francisco's drone-inclined population, the local fire department can help out:
Big thanks to the SF Fire Dept for adding 'drone recovery' to their list of reasons for being awesome. pic.twitter.com/kl70sghslI— Eddie Codel (@ekai) July 3, 2014