Flying a drone capable of going 40 miles per hour indoors may seem counter-intuitive; however, drones remain versatile tools for capturing creative shots for a variety of applications, and flying indoors is no exception. Indoor flying can add another level to your film-making capabilities and prove beneficial for a variety of projects. It turns out drones are great for showing off the construction of new buildings, the operation of equipment or machinery, or even just the interior of large facilities. They are also ideal for residential & commercial real estate, opening up the opportunity for cool new shots such as transitioning from indoors to outdoors.
However, flying indoors is not always easy, and there are a few things you should know to keep both you and your drone safe. Watch the video below to see 7 essential settings you need to configure before flying. These settings will help you have a safe, controlled flight, avoid crashing, and capture the best footage possible.
These Settings Are For All Drones
While smaller drones like the DJI Spark, Mavic Air, and Mavic Pro tend to be better for flying indoors, these settings apply to all DJI drones and are configured within the DJI Go Application.
1. Set Remote Controller Signal Lost to HOVER
The first thing you want to think about is what happens if the drone disconnects from the controller. Indoors there is much more controller interference, from concrete walls, metal equipment, machinery, and wireless frequencies. More interference means your drone is more likely to lose connection. In the event of this happening, you want to make sure your drone doesn’t attempt to land in an unsafe location or try to return to home and crash into the ceiling.
To find this setting, go to Main Controller Settings > Advanced Settings > Remote Controller Signal Lost
Here you can see three options: Return-to-Home, landing, and hover. You want to select hover to keep your drone as safe as possible. This will prevent it from landing on unsafe equipment or trying to return home and crashing into the ceiling.
2. Turn Smart Return to Home OFF
What happens if your drone runs low on battery? Odds are, you have it set so your drone automatically returns home if the battery level hits a certain point. While this is excellent while flying outdoors, inside this can cause a problem. We don’t want our valuable drone crashing into the ceiling when it is low on power. To disable this function, you need to turn Smart Return to Home off.
Find this setting under Aircraft Battery > Smart Return to Home
3. Disable Obstacle Avoidance
Turning off obstacle avoidance may seem counter intuitive. Wouldn’t you want your drone to automatically avoid obstacles when flying indoors? The problem we discovered from our testing is the obstacle avoidance system would trigger too easily and prevent the drone from moving. This inhibits more advanced shots, such as rounding a corner or flying through a doorway, which is why we recommend leaving Obstacle Avoidance turned off. You are welcome to enable it for additional safety or assurance, just know it may limit your flying abilities.
Find this setting under Visual Navigation Settings > Enable Obstacle Avoidance
4. Turn on Display Radar Chart
For some reason DJI ties the Display Radar Chart setting to the Obstacle Avoidance Setting. The Radar Chart is a visual overlay on your screen of how close the sensors detect you are from an obstacle. Even though Obstacle Avoidance is turned off, you can still use the data from the sensors to display a live chart and use this information while flying. We found this to be helpful for gauging how close you are to an obstacle and as an indicator for when you may need to exercise more caution.
Find this setting under Visual Navigation Settings > Display Radar Chart
5. Enable Vision Positioning
Additional interference from walls, equipment, and wireless frequencies can not only interfere with the remote controller connection, but it can also interfere with the drone’s ability to connect to satellites for GPS positioning. Without a reliable satellite connection, the drone can drift in unwanted directions. Vision Positioning fixes this. To quote DJI, “Downward Vision Positioning provides accurate, stable hovering without GPS, and supports Landing Protection and other systems.” Perfect. That is exactly what we want.
How it Works
The way Vision Positioning works is it uses the downward facing ultrasonic and monocular sensors to help the drone maintain its position by detecting patterns and variances in the ground below it. This can be extremely helpful when flying indoors, but there is an important catch you need to be aware of. The big caveat with the Vision Positioning System is that it also makes the drone maintain the same height above the ground, even if it flies over something. For example if you are flying 6 feet off the ground and fly over a 5 foot high table, your drone will gain altitude so it is 6 feet above the table and 11 feet off the ground. If you’re in an area with 10 foot high ceilings, this is a problem because the drone will crash into the ceiling. Leave Vision Positioning turned off if you plan to fly over objects or surfaces with various heights. Otherwise, we recommend enabling Vision Positioning for the added stability it provides.
Find this setting under Visual Navigation Settings > Advanced Settings > Enable Vision Positioning
6. Adjust the Control Sensitivities
Flying indoors requires slow, controlled movements, and with the default control settings these kinds of movements can be challenging to achieve. Adjusting the Expo and Sensitivity settings makes it easier to perform slower movements with finer control.
Find these settings under Main Controller Settings > Advanced Settings > EXP
and Main Controller Settings > Advanced Settings > Sensitivity
First, in Expo what you want to do is set all the values to 0.1. You can quickly do this by dragging the upper part of the graph toward the bottom right, or by manually entering the value in the boxes. What Expo does is it changes the relationship between the physical input of the sticks and the logic output of the sticks. Basically what this means is when the controller sticks stay more towards the middle, the movements will be interpreted as more gradual. Try moving your controller sticks and watching the green and yellow dots move along the graphs. Pretty neat, huh? This allows you to make much finer adjustments and much smaller movements when flying, perfect for an indoor environment.
Adjusting Sensitivity Settings
Next we can adjust the sensitivity settings. From our testing we found it is fine to leave these on their default settings (the Expo settings have a much larger impact on the control of the drone), but we would still like to offer an explanation for each setting and how you might change it for better indoor performance.
- Attitude: how aggressively your drone reacts to your input. Reducing this setting can help your drone move in a slow, smooth way, but it can also sometimes feel like the drone is lagging behind your inputs. We recommend experimenting with this setting to find what works best for you. Don’t know where to start? No worries, simply leave Attitude at its default setting and you’ll be good to go.
- Brake: how quickly the drone brings itself to a stop when you let go of the sticks. We recommend leaving this at its default value, 130, or even increasing it. When flying indoors, it makes sense to have your drone bring itself to a stop rather quickly so it doesn’t collide with anything. Sometimes aggressive breaking can affect the video, but we found the 3-axis stabilization in our drones handled it quite well.
- Yaw Movement: how sensitive the drone is when responding to horizontal rotations, or camera pans. We recommend reducing this settings to its minimum value, 50, for super smooth panning shots. Some pilots struggle with panning and capture jerky, sudden movements. This is the setting to change to fix that. However, depending on the subject or what kind of shot you are attempting, having a quicker pan movement can be quiet helpful. While we recommend a lower value for smoother footage, feel free to adjust this setting to meet the needs of your shot.
7. Enable or Disable Multiple Flight Modes (depending on what drone you have)
The flight mode of your drone has a great impact on its flight characteristics and responsiveness. Sport Mode is awesome for zooming around outside. With more sensitive controls and faster movements, Sport Mode can certainly provide an exhilarating experience. However, when you’re flying indoors, switching to Sport Mode is the last thing you want. To prevent Sport Mode from accidentally being toggled on, we recommend you turn off multiple flight modes on DJI Spark, Mavic Air, and Mavic Pro.
On Spark, Mavic Air, and Mavic Pro go to Main Controller Settings > Multiple Flight Modes > OFF
On the DJI Phantom 4 series of drones however, we actually recommend you leave Multiple Flight Modes turned ON. Why? Because there is a third mode to choose from. ATTI Mode, or Attitude mode, is great for flying indoors, and it is only available on the Phantom 4 lineup. What ATTI mode does is it disables the GPS and uses the barometer control the altitude, allowing the Phantom to move more smoothly and naturally and with finer control. You do have to remember to manually break though, as the drone will drift in the direction it was last moving. Be mindful of air conditioning vents, open windows, and even the air from the drone’s own propellers, called prop wash, which can send your drone drifting in new directions.
Those are all the best options and configurations for flying indoors. These settings will help you maintain control of your drone, stay safe, avoid crashing, and get the smoothest shots possible.
Safely operating a drone indoors not only relies on entering the correct settings, but it also depends on the skill of the pilot and additional precautionary measures that the pilot chooses to use. This can include hardware accessories, important considerations before takeoff and while you are airborne, and the best intelligent flight modes to use. See our Complete Guide to Indoor Flying – Part 2 – Tips & Tricks post to learn about how to fly safely indoors, as well as one neat trick nobody seems to be talking about.