I am excited to share some of the technological aspects of the drone platforms that we are using for training. I will keep the format casual and try to keep it under 5 minutes of reading, with links for further study on the subject if desired. As always I encourage questions, comments, feedback, and if you find an error in my information please alert me! We can find the real answer and make sure everyone has accurate information.
Nearly every drone on the market uses a WiFi connection between the drone and the controller for video communication back to the controller so you can see near-real-time what the drone sees (Yuneec Typhoons are using wifi). It is a good solution for the most part, and in our recent training exercises has been no problem given the distances we have had in relation to our drones. Out of the box, WiFi as originally intended only has a range of a few hundred feet (fine for laptops, iPhones, and Roku’s around the house). With the drone industry moving at twice the speed of the computer industry, however, drone manufacturers are tweaking the WiFi setup to get much more distance and usability from the aging technology (up to a mile in some cases). There are plenty of hacks and upgrades using higher gain antennae, range extenders, etc. But in the end, it’s still just WiFi.
DJI developed their own replacement technology called LightBridge. LightBridge is a 2.4GHz video downlink that uses no handshaking for confirmation of the video signal back to the controller like Wifi does. It essentially is broadcasting the video signal back to the controller. Think back to the old days when we all had rabbit ears on our TVs. If there was interference or static on our TV, we simply missed out on part of the show. What this allows DJI drones to do that a lot of the others cannot do, is get amazing range. The Phantom 3 has a range of a mile, and in optimal conditions can often get up to 2 miles of range. The Phantom 4 will be using LightBridge 2, which provides up to 3 miles of range. LightBridge also offers a very high level of security on who can receive that video transmission. Wifi can easily be hacked in certain scenarios, whereas LightBridge offers a completely different level of technology and security.
In critical situations, DJI drones can be very useful. Surveying catastrophe areas where the pilot cannot safely get close to the affected area. Search and rescue teams wouldn’t want anyone hacking a video transmission of the first drone images coming back that possibly showed dead bodies in a building collapse, etc. At the same time, the video feed can be authorized on monitors inside of a police van so that qualified persons can also be watching. The possibilities are endless really.
The link below is a great resource on the differences between LightBridge and Wifi, and is where I learned much of this information, and I definitely encourage you to check it out!