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What to do if you find a lost drone

The following guest post was written by Oliver McClintock. McClintock is the creator of drone community MyDearDrone.

It’s not every day that a drone lands in your backyard, on your roof or driveway — but it does happen. What do you do if you find a lost drone?

Lost quads are found in 3 general conditions:

  1. Dead – no spinning props, no lights, and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.
  2. Active – no spinning props, but lights are on, and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.
  3. Live – Still trying to fly, lights are on,  and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.

Here’s what to do if you find a drone in each of these conditions:

Dead Unit (safe to approach with caution): Most drones have lights and indicators visible from outside the unit. These lights enhance visibility at long-range, and can indicate the current status of the onboard navigation system, such as flight mode, low battery, GPS status, etc.

Related read: How to get the longest FPV range on your drone

Most of the time, if a unit is completely “dark” with no marker lights or status lights illuminated, the unit is off or has drained its battery pack below a working level. Drones in this category are safe to approach (with caution). From there, check for an identification tag or marking (some owners will mark their unit with a contact name and phone number).

Active Unit (proceed with extreme caution): The props are not spinning, but the lights are on. In this case, you may proceed, but be cautious!

Many drone manufacturers add an “autoland when the battery is low” feature in their systems. It’s like a “return to home” feature, where the drone returns to the exact point it is launched from, but in some cases, the unit may not have enough battery life remaining to make the return trip. In that case, the drone “autolands” as a safety measure. Most systems shut down their motors after an autoland so the propellers won’t be spinning, but not always.

Live Unit (do not approach, and keep bystanders clear of the area): The lights are on, the props are spinning. No one should approach this type of unit unless they are very accustomed with the specific model operation or there is some imminent danger to a person or property.

Have you discovered a lost drone? Here are some tips to locate the owner do:

  • If your drone includes an integrated camera, you can use that to make an effort to communicate along with the person who likely has a feed in his mobile device or computer.
  • If the owner was filming his flight, a hint to the home point or takeoff might be stored in the memory chip if you view it on your computer.
  • Does the quadcopter has a QR label code? If so, scan with your smartphone for details including a potential reward for giving back the lost unit to its proprietor.
  • Does it have an FAA registration number on it? Take this to your local police, and they may use that to find the owner.
  • You can call the aircraft manufacturer and give away its number to record it “found.”

The common law indicates that whoever is the owner of a property where the drone crashes could keep it, unless or until someone come to get it.

What have you done when you found a lost drone? Let me know in the comments below!

-By Oliver McClintock

McClintock is the creator of MyDearDrone, a free community to learn everything from news, reviews, guides and much more about drones and technology.

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7 Comments

  • Thank you, Sally, for the opportunity, and I will be happy to answer if there are any questions from the readers about the post. 🙂

  • ejosterberg says:

    I don’t think it’s true everywhere that you can keep a drone if the property happens to be found on your land. Maybe in many cases, but certainly not all. Do you have any example case law or statues that say this?

  • ejosterberg says:

    Keeping that drone might land you in legal trouble, Maybe you’ll become a felon for attempting to conceal you have it? http://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-16/chapter-8/article-1/16-8-6 If that drone is valued at more than 600 bucks, expect to loose your voting rights and possibly spend a year or more in jail.

  • Jck says:

    i just hooked it up to a Custom controller and claimed it as mine MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Justin says:

    I’ve found two drones crashed on the cliffs. Both of them i made an attempt to contact the owners via local facebook buy/swap/sell groups. I had some other people tell me they lost their drones (which I gladly helped them out and took a look as I’m on the cliffs often) but they were different to the ones I’ve found. Never located either of the owners so just threw them out

  • Elena says:

    Found a drone in Hawaii (Diamond Head) its a Phantom standard. The owner probably lost it because there is a signal jam in the area. It has a camera but not blades. Can someone tell me what to do?

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