One thing we love about drones is the number of different features to explore and try out. Maybe as a beginner, you’ll be more than happy to just fly the drone around in your backyard. But as you start learning more about drones, you’ll realize how exciting it is to test different features such as sensors, GPS, camera quality, and so on. Now we won’t be touching upon all the features of a drone in this post. As the title of this post says, our focus today is on just one unique feature of drones – the auto-return or return-to-home (RTH) feature.
The aim is to help you understand what the RTH feature does, how it works, and everything you should know about it. And we’ll also review some of the best drones with RTH features that are currently on the market, so stick around till the end.
What Is The Auto-Return Or RTH Feature In Drones?
The name already says it – RTH is a feature of drones to fly back home in auto-pilot mode automatically. When we say ‘return to home,’ the term ‘home’ can imply two things:
- A location that you set as ‘home’ for the drone before you start the flight (this is applicable only for drones with GPS)
- The point from which the flight started
So if your drone is somewhere in the air mid-flight and you don’t want to fly it back yourself, you can just hit the RTH button, then relax as you wait for the drone to come back on its own. Sounds simple, right? Well, it seems like the press of a button is all you need to do, but there’s more you need to know.
Before you decide to put the RTH feature to fair use, you must be very clear about two things:
- How RTH works and its various aspects
- Different factors that affect the RTH flight of drones
The good news is that you don’t need to look further as we’ll explain these things right here and right now.
How Does The Auto Return Drone Feature Work?
It’s not possible to give a direct answer to this question because different manufacturers program the RTH function in their drones differently. Even two products from the same manufacturer may have differences in how their RTH function works. But we’ll explain the working mechanism in a general sense, so that everyone can follow through without getting into too much technical stuff.
There are three ways for the RTH to be activated in drones. The first way is by pressing a button on the remote controller or app, as we already mentioned. The second case is when the battery reaches a certain, pre-defined level, after which the RTH gets activated on its own to bring the drone back before it loses power. And the third case is when the drone loses signal from the controller, which also triggers the RTH mode so it can find its way back, and you don’t worry about looking for it, or worse, losing it permanently.
Now let’s talk about what happens after the RTH is activated. In drones with GPS, you can set any location as ‘home’ before you start the flight, whether it’s the same point where the drone took off or an entirely different location.
Once RTH is activated, the drone uses the GPS and navigation system to fly back, and it can do so either by tracing back the same route that it took originally, or by finding the shortest distance back to the ‘home’ point. Some drones don’t have a GPS, but still have the RTH function. In such drones, you can only set the starting point itself as the return point, and they can only follow the same route back to the return point by flying backward exactly how they came.
Just remember that the functionality of RTH is not the same for all drones. So the things we discussed above will not necessarily be there in every RTH drone, and you’ll need to carefully read the packaging or product page for drones that you’re thinking about buying before you pull the trigger.
Factors That Affect How An Auto Return Drone Behaves
When a drone enters RTH mode, you don’t have control over it. Some models may have an option to override the RTH mode, but even that won’t be an option if the RTH mode was activated due to lost connection. And if you were to take control of the RTH function, then why even use it in the first place?
The point here is that when in auto-return mode, the drone is under its own control. And if things were to go wrong, you wouldn’t be able to control it. So before you set auto return mode on, there are a number of factors that must be accounted for to ensure the safe return of the drone.
Always keep an eye on the battery meter of your drone before you hit the RTH button. You obviously don’t want the drone to be in mid-air when it loses power, especially without you being able to control it.
Drones are smart, and they keep getting smarter, but when it comes to avoiding obstacles in auto-return mode, they won’t do an as good job as with manual control from a human. So it’s best to just avoid using RTH in a crowded area or someplace with too many obstacles. Also, invest in a drone with collision avoidance sensors, as they can detect and easily avoid clearly visible obstacles.
The altitude of your drone is also an essential factor to consider, as flying at low altitudes increases the chances of coming across obstacles. It’s best to have your drone fly at a high altitude when in RTH mode. You can usually set the altitude for RTH mode so that whenever auto-return is activated, the drone will move to the preset altitude immediately.
When you set the ‘home’ location for your drone, make sure that the location is appropriate for a safe landing. Alternately, you can go for a drone that simply hovers in the air once it reaches the ‘home’ point so you can grab it yourself.
Best RTH Drones for Different Budget Range
With everything we’ve discussed so far, you now know what an auto return drone is, so you’re probably eager to buy one. There’s quite a lot of options on the market, and it can be confusing to decide which one you should buy.
So you can skip the hassle of browsing through multiple products and simply check out our picks for the best RTH drones in three different price ranges.
Low Budget Pick – DJI Spark
DJI Spark is totally lightweight and small enough to fit snugly in your hands. More importantly, it’s incredibly smart for a low budget drone. Apart from the RTH mode, here are some other amazing features of Spark:
- FaceAware, a feature of the drone to initiate takeoff automatically by detecting your face.
- Can be controlled with hand gestures when in flight so that you can quickly take pictures and selfies.
- With ActiveTrack, you can command the drone to detect and track the motion of certain moving objects.
Its battery is not the most impressive, with 16 minutes of flight time on average, but you can’t expect too much from this drone, considering it comes with a price tag of just $449.
Mid Budget Pick – DJI Mavic Pro
The DJI Mavic Pro is also an excellent RTH drone that’s totally worth its price. Here are the key features and highlights:
- A powerful battery with an average flight time of 27 minutes
- Transmission up to 4.3miles/7km
- Equipped with 5 vision sensors and the FlightAutonomy mechanism, it can detect obstacles up to 49 feet (15 meters) away.
- Like the DJI Spark, the Mavic Pro is also equipped with ActiveTrack technology to detect and focus on moving objects.
- An impressive 4k camera to capture high quality photos and videos.
The DJI Mavic Pro is small, powerful, and loaded with features, all for a price of $999.
High Budget Pick – Yuneec Typhoon H Plus
If you’re willing to spend some serious money on an RTH drone that will prove to be worth every penny of its price, then the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus is just what you need. It features 6 rotors in a hexacopter design and looks very sleek and stylish. But the reason why it falls in the high budget category is that it truly impresses with its auto-flight features, which are listed below:
- Orbit Me mode: sets the drone to keep rotating around a fixed center point.
- Point of Interest: set a fixed location as the ‘point of interest,’ and the drone automatically makes its way to the location.
- Journey mode: set a fixed travel route from one point to another in the drone’s GPS, and it will follow that route autonomously.
- Curve Cable Cam: set the drone to move in a curved line of motion, perfect for taking cinematic shots.
- Follow Me and Watch Me mode: set the drone to follow an object or person on its own, or focus on an object/person from one point.
RTH is just one of the many autonomous functions of the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus. With various auto-flight modes, it’s to be expected that it also features high standard obstacle detecting sensors with Intel RealSense Technology. Priced at $2,499, the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus is undoubtedly a quite expensive auto return drone but well worth the money.
Final Words On The Auto Return Drone
Auto-return is a handy feature of drones because it is fun to use, makes things more convenient, keeps you hands-free, and most importantly, it serves as a security measure for your drone to get back to you by itself in case you lose connection.
With our detailed guide, we hope that you are now well-informed about the RTH feature, how you can use it safely, and the fact that it’s best to avoid turning auto-return on in crowded places or areas with obstacles such as lots of trees, wires, and buildings. And for those interested in buying an RTH drone, our personally reviewed picks for different price ranges should help you find the best product for your needs and according to your budget.