Can Drones Fly In Fog?

Drones are engineered to fly, but does that mean they can successfully navigate any weather condition? Particularly the dense and moisture-laden foggy days when you can barely see beyond your extended hand?

In short, can drones fly in fog? Well, technically, they can. But if you really care about your drone, then the flight is not worth it.

The functionality and structural integrity of drones are severely hampered by any form of precipitation, like fog, mist, rain, etc. Besides the harm caused to equipment, there are operational and legal risks of flying drones in fog.

Read on as someone who has flown through a few times take you through the determinants and implications of flying drones in fog. Trust me, you will emerge as a more responsible drone operator after reading this!

How Do Drones Navigate?

As part of their BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations, most drones are equipped with an autonomous navigation system. This helps them reach preset waypoints or chart their own route safely without constant monitoring or input.

Aiding them in this task are GPS/GNSS receivers, LiDAR scanners, inertial navigation systems (INS), ultrasonic sensors, and visual cameras, which help your drone avoid obstacles and collisions.

Some drones are equipped with SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping), a navigation technique that helps them create a blueprint of their surroundings and their position in it.

Lower-priced drones fly simply by means of a controller operated by the pilot on ground. In such cases, the pilot relies on visual tracking to control and navigate the drone.

The Challenge of Fog in Drone Navigation

Can Drones Fly In Fog?

A fog can be considered a low-lying cloud consisting of tiny water droplets or ice crystals suspended in air. The moisture content of fog can severely hamper the sensitive navigation system of drones.

The electronics on our drones such as DJI Drones are not always water-proof/water-resistant. There are small vents and crevices that will allow moisture from dense fog to enter and damage the sensitive areas.

And once the moisture is in, there is no knowing the extent of damage it can cause. The effect may be immediate, and you may lose control or communication with the drone.

Or your drone may behave erratically on its future flights due to the presence of moisture. Either way, you would have successfully spoiled a perfectly well-functioning machine!

The other challenge comes from the sensors. Your drone’s sensors may mistake the dense fog to be an obstruction or a landing surface. This will prevent it from flying or cause it to crash-land.

Factors Affecting Drone Flight in Fog

Now that we understand the equipment that helps drones navigate, we can better appreciate the detrimental effects of flying them in fog. Below are a few reminders that reinforce my personal commitment to abstain from flying my precious machine on foggy days:

1. Fog means low or no visibility.

So, once your drone is airborne, you can no longer spot it. Certainly not ideal conditions to fly a drone, right? Losing sight of your drone puts it at a heightened risk of impairment or, worse – hurting individuals in the vicinity!

2. Even if you fly your drone in a visible range, the moisture-heavy weather can cause camera lens condensation.

And sometimes, as it happened with a friend of mine, the camera refuses to defog even after exiting the weather. While they were able to change the damaged lens, it did take up unnecessary time and resources!

3. Drone flights in foggy conditions directly impact battery usage.

Since the air is dense with moisture, more power is required to counter the increased resistance. Consequently, the battery performance worsens.

4. Your drone’s propellers, which keep it in flight, are vulnerable too.

The continued downward air thrust that keeps your drone in the air may cause the underside of the propellers to frost up in fog or even caused it to break. If this happens, your drone’s stability is jeopardized, and it could plummet to the ground.

5. Legal Guidelines

If you are a Part 107 qualified drone operator, then the FAA subjects you to additional limitations and mandates for flying your drone in low visibility conditions. Read more on the legal guidelines for flying in fog here.

Advanced Technology in Drones to Counter Foggy Flights

As drones continue to assume pivotal roles in sectors like weather forecasting and disaster management, it is crucial to develop fog-capable drones.

Agencies like NASA are conducting studies to decipher and overcome the challenges posed by fog to drone flights. Experiments on drone safety in fog have revealed that each instrument responds differently to foggy conditions. Conclusions from the study will provide insights pivotal for envisioning drones for low visibility conditions.

So far, the following advancements have garnered attention in the drone-tech world:

a. A few high-end drone models are equipped with Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR technology for drones. These sensors use laser beams to provide a high-resolution 3D view of their surroundings.

Depending on the wavelength of the laser, these fog-penetrating sensors can see through varying fog densities. However, while they might penetrate thick fog, the longer wavelengths required to do so will lower the resolution and accuracy of the drone. 

b. A millimeter-wave RFID tag, invented in 2023, is the latest innovation developed by NTT Corporation (NTT) in collaboration with The University of Tokyo.

By using a small millimeter-wave radar that is unaffected by weather conditions, this drone will achieve accurate navigation. This way, it will be able to fulfill all foggy weather drone applications effortlessly.

Legal Considerations, Safety Measures and Precautions

As a drone hobbyist, drone flying is a passion for me. And at no point would I want to turn this recreational pursuit into a mental burden! If you hold the same opinion, then the following guidelines will come in handy:

– FAA Part 107 clearly states that drones must always be flown within sight with adequate anti-collision lights. The minimum weather visibility is capped at 3 miles from the control station.

While these guidelines do not legally concern you unless you have a pilot certification under Part 107, they nonetheless are central to responsible drone flying.

After all, the last thing you need is to end up damaging property or causing injury to someone when navigating drones in fog. Both of which could have legal implications! 

– Always ensure that your drone’s anti-collision lights are functional, especially when flying in low visibility conditions.

You can opt for add-on lights if your drone isn’t already equipped with these. I always buy portable LiPo batteries as they are easy to recharge and cost less in the long run.

– If you’re flying drones in adverse weather conditions, consider water-proofing as a precautionary measure. I personally prefer the drone conformal silicone coating. But you also have the option of a drone wet suit.

Future of Drones in Foggy and Unclear Flight Conditions

Unlike the visibility in foggy weather, the future of drones in fog seems bright! The ability of drones to carry out tasks and reach inaccessible areas makes them the new-age superheroes.

Their immeasurable contribution to weather forecasting, disaster management, and military operations means that they will soon be indispensable.

There has been a surge in drone R&D to invent the best drone technology in low visibility. The focus is on enabling drones to fly in any kind of weather and minimizing fog impact on drone flights.

When this technology becomes accessible and affordable to drone hobbyists remains to be seen. Till then, staying ‘clear’ is the dictum for drone flying.

Conclusion

Summing up, flying drones in fog can have some serious consequences both for you and the drone. The adventure of flying through fog is definitely outweighed by the risk, in my humble opinion.

So, till such time as we get our hands on weather-proof versions of our favorite drones, repeat to yourself – drones and foggy weather do not go together!

FAQ

1. Can drones be flown through clouds?

Clouds have an even higher concentration of moisture than fog or mist. If you fly a drone through clouds, chances are that it will return drenched and with possible technical glitches.

2. What are the ideal conditions for flying a drone?

Sunny weather, minimal wind, and ambient temperature are the ideal drone flying conditions. Sunny weather ensures visibility, a low wind maintains stability, and mild temperatures keep the battery usage optimal.

Author
Diptesh Das

Diptesh Das is your friendly ‘content maniac’ and drone enthusiastic! Being passionate about content writing. He is a firm believer of the power of words and thereby ended up leveraging them to create an impact by sharing his drone knowledge and experiences.

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