Filming unicycle videos with a DJI Mavic drone

Back in December Nathan posted to the Unicycle Chat facebook group about his experience using a DJI Mavic drone for filming a unicycle video. His video and one of the write-ups is:

I don’t have the experience that Nathan does (with drones or unicycles) but I got a DJI Mavic to see how well it would replace and possibly enhance the way I usually shoot (mainly freewheel) videos. I was most interested in the “ActiveTrack” modes of the Mavic where it will film an object using image recognition. I shot a couple initial videos riding my freewheel unicycle using the drone in WiFi mode and was encountering a few issues.

Nathan reminded me that in WiFi mode the aircraft has a max speed of 9 MPH and I believe this was one of the problems I was having. The other problem is that the aircart will not significantly ascend or descend while following an object (in either WiFi or RC mode). I shot some video to test out possibilities:

This video has five segments filmed using ActiveTrack Profile mode. The first three are on the same, relatively level terrain and include screen captures of the app and the final two are an ascent and a descent of a different section with minor elevation.

  1. 0:00-0:50. WiFi mode on level terrain.

  2. 0:51-2:43. RC mode on level terrain with controller inside a case.

  3. 2:44-4:44. RC mode on level terrain with controller in waist pack and phone in pocket.

  4. 4:45-5:21. WiFi mode on ascent with controller inside case.

  5. 5:22-5:44. WiFi mode on descent with controller set aside at the starting point.

  6. ActiveTrack loses me once I get close to 9MPH as expected. The error it shows is “ActiveTrack Flight Stopped; Aircraft Entering Restricted Area”. This message confused me before but is the same thing I was getting for my first freewheel video when I got some speed.

  7. This was generally successful but I’m not sure why the aircraft went higher. The controls may have been jostled in the case. The controller seemed to work fine through the case.

  8. This was a disaster. I definitely jostled the joyticks and probably messed with the app while it was in my pocket. The aircraft rose high and lost me.

  9. Another disaster. The aircraft did not rise as I ascended and this is the expected behavior. When I looked back to check on it I had a UPD which probably jostled the joystick and caused the aircraft to cross over the trail and crash into a bush.

  10. This verifies that the aircraft does not descend as the object does and this is the expected behavior.

I don’t think there’s any perfect solution for filming. I’m planning to use these two methods in the future:

  1. RC mode with the controller set aside at the starting point for ActiveTrack Profile/Trace modes to capture short segments with elevation and longer sections with level terrain. I can only effectively use about half the battery because it will either follow me back to retrieve the phone/controller or I have to go back and manually fly it to me.

  2. WiFi mode carrying my phone for ActiveTrack Spotlight mode to capture short segments and series of short segments. Here I can make more effective use of the battery since I can land at the end of the series instead of needing to go back to the starting point.

To shoot this video I mainly used Spotlight mode and threw in the segment from my descent test above: