My Bad Day With the 3DR Solo Drone

IMG_3627From the time I pre-ordered my Solo drone from 3D Robotics on their launch announcement day I’ve been excited to test their claims of being able to get incredible cinematic shots with one operator.  If all the hype about the “first smart drone” is true then this is going to be an evolutionary leap forward for aerial cinematographers and independent film makers.  By the time I finally received my Solo, I had plenty of time to watch all the orientation videos and read all the documentation I could find online.  So, along with several years of flying other multirotor platforms, I thought I was well prepared to take it out for its initial test flight.  After making sure that the batteries for the controller and Solo were completely charged and all the firmware was up to date I took it to friend’s house for it’s inaugural flight (his backyard is much bigger than mine and I wanted the first flight to be in a large open space).

After powering on the controller and Solo it seemed to take a long time to get a good GPS lock and declare itself “ready to fly”, but it was ready soon enough and I pressed the FLY button to start the motors.  Pressing and holding the FLY button again launched the Solo into the air and I gave it a little thrust to raise it to about 8 feet off the ground and let it settle in to see how stable it flew.  It was rock solid.  It was so steady it almost looked like an optical illusion where the Solo was sitting on an invisible shelf because it wasn’t moving at all.  I was thoroughly  impressed.

As with every flight, I performed a basic test of all the movement controls to ensure everything was reacting correctly.  I tentatively used the sticks to try the pitch, roll, yaw, and finally a little thrust to see how it handled at a slightly higher altitude.  That’s when things started to go wrong.  Once the Solo climbed to about 30 feet it started to act erratically by flying aggressively forward into the wind then backward without me touching the controls.  I immediately tried to counter the Solo’s movements by giving it the opposite commands so it wouldn’t collide with the house.  After a few tense seconds I was able to bring it back under control.  At that point, I thought that the wind at the higher altitude might be causing problems so I navigated it back to the center of the backyard and started to slowly bring it back down.

Dramatic reenactment of my Solo in the turtle position
Dramatic reenactment of my Solo in the turtle position

Unfortunately, the Solo started accelerating as it came down (I made sure to bring it down at an incline instead of straight down to avoid creating a vortex ring state) so I quickly let go of the left stick hoping that it would level out and hover.  That wasn’t the case.  Even though I was no longer pulling the left stick down Solo was still heading for the ground; quickly.  At the last minute I tried to push the left stick up to keep it from hitting hard, but it still touched down on uneven ground and flipped forward onto it’s back.

Here’s where things got interesting.  Based on my previous experience with 3DR and other drone manufacturers I made the assumption that the motors would stop trying to spin once it was clear there was an obstruction preventing operation.  In my mind, this is a core safety feature that should be a part of every RC flying system.  When I reached down and attempted to right my turtled Solo the blades sprung to life and started spinning at full speed almost catching my arm.  I quickly set the drone back down in the grass upside down so that no one would get hurt and tried using the controller to stop the motors.  At this point the controller seemed to believe that the Solo was still in flight so I tried pressing and holding the FLY button a couple of times to instruct the Solo to “land”, but I could still hear the motors trying to spin so that didn’t do anything.  I finally gave up and turned the controller completely off and that did the trick – the motors stopped and I was able to pick up the Solo safely.

At this point I thought I was going to be able to turn the controller back on and get back into the air in a few minutes.  I put the Solo back on it’s feet and made sure that the controller had reestablished a good connection and said that the Solo was ready to fly.  This time when I pressed the FLY button to start the motors spinning only three out of the four started up while the fourth one moved with a slight nervous twitch.  Seeing there was a problem I wanted to stop the launch sequence and investigate, but not knowing the command to stop the blades from spinning I accidentally pressed the FLY button again (in my mind pressing and holding the FLY button was intended to be a “land” command, but obviously that’s not right).  With only three blades spinning the Solo attempted to take off and just flopped forward onto it’s back again so I killed the power to the controller and turned off the Solo.  Now, when I try to turn on the Solo the number three motor makes a slight knock sound and the blade twitches slightly then quietly turns itself off.  Bricked. 🙁

IMG_3642So, after a total flight time of under five minutes my Solo is now completely unresponsive.  I’ve submitted a support ticket with the flight logs attached and have already received an automated reply stating that they are “experiencing a high volume of tickets at this time” and that someone will get back to me in 1-3 days.  I hope that they come to the same conclusions that I have:

  • I was not in complete control of the Solo during about 10% of the flight
  • The Solo kept descending toward the ground even after I released the left stick
  • There should be a safety cut off for the motors if the blades are obstructed
    • The motors were extremely hot after trying to spin in the grass
    • I assume that’s what fried one of the ESCs
  • There should be a more intuitive way to cut the motors in case of an emergency (after reading the manual again I now know you have to press and hold the A, B, and PAUSE buttons)

Now it is in 3D Robotic’s hands and I get a chance to evaluate their support process.  To be honest, it was really easy to submit a trouble ticket with the flight logs attached so at least they’ve got that going for them.


33 thoughts on “My Bad Day With the 3DR Solo Drone

  1. My experience with solo is 30 good 70 bad, solo very unpredictable near the floor I would not pay 4000 for the solo with a sony camera, the main UAV is the same as mine they just attached a new camera and is a high risk flying it, despite what other people says I am talking based on my own experience, unless they are using a different motherboard with a different UAV solo is not worth 4000, is really worth 200, sorry for 3dr but this is the truth, my cousin uses his DJI mavis and not a single issue flying the same paths than mine as well as controlling near the floor, solos big trouble comes when solo tries to auto respond on an smart way taking away part of the pilot control over the UAV then it results on a crash or hurt someone beware of this UAV

  2. Some places be populated by RF emissions mainly in the microwaves band. This places in direct view between the antenas are crossed by Fresnel zones , with a lobule shape. I experienced some crashs and control loss when the quad goes away. For the Solo I am suspicious to talk because I expect my first. The issue, I think this appear more a RF interference in the local field than the quad model. I experienced this effect in the quads DIY and in the Known brands. This field have to be avoided. Dependent of the antenas signal intensity in the towers, the Fresnel zone saturate the whole space and blind the comunication link TX to RX of the quad. Try to observe your field before, the ideal would be measure this background emission level but I unknow if exist a device for this. This reduce greatly the distance of the radio to the quad and can cause a control loss, discarding any recover possibility. You have to sit and wait it fall and only God knows where. Some models, will trigger the RTH when lost the radio link and return by the GPS but I don’t know if the interference trigger spurious commands and the quad consider like a command and continuate fly alone same with the RTH on. All of this matter have to be exploited. Avoid fly in this dangerous places. Today exist some artefacts based in this effect with high directional power RF output in the interest band to interfere and put in ground the quads when pointed to they. Knowed if your neighbors have one ?

  3. I had almost exact same expérience. Erratic behavior, loss of control, inability to land, followed by a crash.
    I had about 50hrs fly time wt the unit at that time, I followed up with support who looked for any excuse to blame operator.
    My next drone will not be a 3DR.
    Currently looking for any Kamakazi missions.

  4. I’ve been flying a Solo for a year now and I have never had any problems with it even while attempting acrobats! Of course there is a learning period but after that…it was all fantastic!
    I also own a Phantom 3 Standard and a Parrot Bebop 2 which are both really good quads but the Solo is much more user friendly.

    Tom M

  5. I’ve owned a Solo for a year now and I have never had a problem with it even while attempting acrobats. Of course there is a learning period but after that it’s absolutely flawless! I also own a Phantom 3 Standard and a Parrot Bebop 2 both of which are really good quads but in my opinion the Solo is the most user friendly.

    Fly, fly on!

    Tom M

  6. Has anyone been able to record onto their GoPro camera via the solo app? I have only been able to record the live stream that is saved onto my iPad when I choose to record. ~Jeremy

    • Yes. I actually had the same problem with the 3DR Solo. And I wasn’t getting feed on the phone when on video mode but in picture mode, it was fine. What I learned was that you have to actually press the record button on the GoPro. Not the phone.

  7. Solo Pros:
    -Amazing flight ability.
    -Very tight handling.
    -As soon as the gamble is released: cinematic possibilities ahead of the rest.
    -Very strong chassis and durable design. A strong crash proved this.
    -Customer service

    -20 minute flight time give or take. Yes that is the going time for most drones of this size.
    -There seems to be some bugs that need to be remedied.

  8. I’ve also had some issues with Solo where I lost control, seemingly through loss of good GPS signal. I’ve flown the Solo in 4 different places, and one in particular, a park by the river, is where 4 crashes occurred in 20 minutes. When I tried to land Solo suddenly veered left until crash. Another crash Solo was unresponsive until hitting a tree. 3dr is looking ta the logs now, yet I believe it was due to the area I was in. There have been times in other areas where solo briefly behaved erratically, yet I was always able to recover.

    That said, I have not been able to use the follow mode with my iPad air. So last night i used my friends iPhone 5s and follow did work. It was glitchy yet it did work.

    Lastly, live view has only worked in spurts, and this morning not at all. I don’t know why it works sometimes and then does not. Sometimes i could turn the app off and then on and that would cause the live feed to appear again. When I used my friends iPhone last night i was not able to see what the camera was seeing at all.

    Finally, i have not been able to record onto the camera through the app. I can only do so manually. I have read the trouble shooting and have found no remedy. Again, 3dr is looking into the issues.

    Overall i really enjoy flying Solo. Solo has some spectacular ability and I am looking forward to filming with the gamble and fixing the issues.

    I do have some thought that perhaps i bought in to early, yet we will see about that. ~Jeremy

    • Pretty sure I’ve seen examples of people doing the programmed smart shots without the gimbal – it works but obviously not stabilized so the shot looks weak.

  9. If you push home it’s going to try to go home, and the first thing it’s going to do is floor it to get to the correct altitude for go home mode.

  10. I had the same kind of issue when I used the auto take off mode. I pushed the fly button and it took off a little crooked and I didn’t think much of it. After a few seconds of flight it started acting weird and all of a sudden it decided to head for the ground at an alarming rate. I managed to fight it with lots of throttle and just landed hard, nothing broken. I proceeded to fly again, but I took off myself and have never had a problem since. I also never use auto take off anymore.

  11. I had the same experience today about my solo turtling. Now it won’t even start up. I have about 10 hours of flying with the solo and this was the first crash. I don’t know what to do now as I am past the 30 days for returns. It won’t start up or anything.

    • Your warranty should still apply. Submit your flight log with a support request through the Solo app and see what they say. Mine is in California being repaired right now.

      • Yup emailed them the log files right away, they said they’re reviewing the problem and will contact me in 2 days. I hope it doesn’t take too long for them to contact me back.

  12. You are correct about the hype being such that we all expected a near-perfect craft instead of an incomplete and buggy one.
    You are also correct about auto-shut off – have they fixed that? My toy drones have that feature.

    Solo seems not ready for prime time – I’ll check back into it in 6 months or so when they have gimbals and time to fix the major problems. Also, they need to stop the “BTC” (blame the customer) approach to their problems and deliver on what they promised – something that beginners can fly and take cinematic shots with.

    • Well, mine is still in California with 3DR so I haven’t had much time to evaluate the Solo yet. So far, the customer support experience has been positive and I never got the impression they were “blaming the customer”. Hopefully I’ll have it back soon and get the gimbal to see what it is capable of doing.

    • Jason – I shipped it to California (3DR paid Fedex cost) and am waiting for repair. I’ll be writing a follow up article that details the experience and shares my opinions on where they did a great job with support and where they can improve. I’m hoping I get to write that article soon. 🙂

  13. I am a Solo owner & I have flown over 40 flights with Solo with out one problem. i’ve even flown in 20 mile an hour wind And solo has performed flawlessly. i’ve used all the different smart shots They are some great features can’t wait until the gimbal is released. I have noticed a lot of pilot error. And a lot of newbies to the hobby. Read your manual front to back more than once. Then read it again. Have fun out there fly safe and the Solo is a great machine .

    • Thanks for reading the article and leaving a comment. I’m glad you’re having a much better experience so far. I definitely agree that the Solo is probably a very capable platform especially after the gimbal is released and unlocks some more functionality. Even during the short time I had flying it felt like a very stable and responsive drone.

    • Exactly what Pablo says. Also, anyone starting out with a couple thousand dollar hobby drone based on a 30 second advertisement showing apes flying them should maybe rethink truth in advertising again. Learn how to drone on a cheaper model.

  14. You read all the documentation, but only knew how to press the fly button?
    There’s a pause button… One of the #1 features of solo. It is the biggest button on the CONTROLLER. And there’s also a home button. Either of those would be better than fly… It’s FLY. Think about that. It’s like telling a dog to sit by yelling dinner.

    Sorry you didn’t get to play with solo. It is an amazing device. I had a few crashes. Two early GPS glitches and a bad landing. You learn A plus B plus Pause to stop the rotors. It’s the ctrl alt delete of solo.

    Hope you aren’t discouraged. Just as anything, there is a learning curve. Go to a FIELD. They specifically tell you that. It’s in the manual. You read that. Maybe time to reread the controls chapter. Twice.

    • In the situation where the Solo was on it’s back and I was trying to stop the motors from spinning I didn’t think that pressing the HOME or PAUSE buttons were the right choices considering what those two buttons are designed to do. At the time, I thought my best option was to instruct the Solo to “land” by pressing and holding the FLY button. I agree with your sentiment that it is not intuitive that you should press the FLY button to send a land command. Maybe 3D Robotics should consider using a long (3 second) press of the PAUSE button as the land command. That would make more sense to most people.

      I was caught off guard by the fact that the rotors were still trying to engage even when obstructed and was quickly trying to do anything to prevent damage to the motors. In hindsight, I should have been prepared to use the emergency cut off A + B + PAUSE, but I think thats where my years of experience flying multiple different multi-rotor platforms hurt me instead of helping. I think I was overconfident and it resulted in a rookie mistake on my part. I’ll own that for sure, but also think that the motors should have stopped the second it flipped on it’s back and I should have never been put in that situation.

      As for your “Go to a FIELD” remark – I think that the size of the flying area was fine for my level of experience and wasn’t a factor in anything that happened. If the same situation had played out in a huge field the outcome wouldn’t have been any different. I completely agree that if you have never flown an RC helicopter before you should find the biggest empty field and start there.

      Definitely not discouraged. I chalk it up to a good learning experience and I’m always striving to learn more about the hobby. Thanks for taking the time to share your opinions!

  15. Interesting. I’ve been a DJI fan, but was thinking about getting one of these, but really wanted to start seeing some real world results.

    This is frightening.

    • I wouldn’t be scared off by one bad experience. There are tons of people out there (some commented here) that are having fantastic experiences with the Solo. I think the Solo has a ton of potential to be an incredible aerial cinematography platform.

  16. Oh man I’ve been saving up to upgrade to the Solo! I’ve been hearing about these type of issues with the Solo. I just hope that by the time I have enough saved up to order mine 3D Robotics will have looked into and fixed these issues.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! Please don’t judge the capabilities of the Solo based on my five minute flight and mishap. I’m sure they are shipping tons of Solos out into the world and the people who have bad experiences are going to be more vocal online. I’m sure it is a capable machine – I just had some bad luck.

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