Airdata: An Essential Tool for Drone Pilots?

Airdata: An Essential Tool for Drone Pilots?

Whether you’ve just gotten a drone to escape quarantine via the skies, or you’ve been flying professionally for a while, having access to more detailed flight information can help make you a better pilot. Airdata, a flight data platform, promises to give pilots broad insight into their drone’s data. Do they deliver?

Airdata’s web-based platform takes the log files that your drone’s flight app automatically generates and creates easy to understand dashboards, as well as more in-depth tracking of metrics compared to the default flight information in the basic apps. What this means for a pilot is a better overview of their drone’s key characteristics.

Along with the key hardware performance indicators, you can also get access to deep flight logging and fleet management tools. While these are aimed at companies fielding multiple drones for multiple users, they aren’t locked behind an unreasonably high price.

At just the free service tier, users still get access to many of the key metrics, although they are limited to 100 active flights in the log, and are unable to use the fleet-oriented features. At the other end of the spectrum, their enterprise level of service offers unlimited flight tracking, advanced reporting, custom checklists, and online document storage, potentially making this a replacement for a number of other subscription services.

Useful to any user are the controller, battery, and sensor performance tracking since these can serve as a “check engine” light for any potential hardware issues. As these are available at the free level and are typically useful on a short-term basis (i.e., checking a performance issue after a flight), I decided to take a look at the “HD Free” level of service, with the following review based around that level of service.

Getting Started

Signup is easy, taking less than 30 seconds to fill out, and requiring only a name, email, and password. Once your account is created, however, there’s still one more step required. You’ll have to set up some way of syncing your flight logs from your controller software over to Airdata’s servers. If you’re using a DJI drone, like 80% of drone users are, you can just add your DJI login, which will allow Airdata to pull your flight logs from the DJI cloud. Along with DJI, Autel and Parrot are also supported, along with 3rd party flight apps like Litchi, AutoPilot, Top Pilot, and DroneDeploy.

This is the first little bump in Airdata’s system. While I understand there can be delays between your controller uploading the log to DJI’s cloud, I’ve yet to have my flights automatically load into Airdata’s system. Instead, I’ve had to manually dig into the flight retrieval preferences and manually click a button to sync just to get my flights to transfer. It’s not a huge issue, but just feels unfinished. If I’m logging in, odds are I’ve got a flight I want to look at, so why not automatically sync?

Other than that button click, the sync is pretty seamless. Their server may take a few seconds to a few minutes to process the log, depending on your tier of subscription. When it’s finished, it appears under your logs, organized by date and time. Clicking into the log itself brings up a map of your flight path, some key statistics and information, and a few pictures from the flight.

Digging In

The interface is clean, but a bit empty, with an unnecessary amount of white space on higher-resolution monitors. That large amount of wasted space makes the heavily tabbed navigation feel particularly unnecessary. To view all the data available from your flight, you’ll be clicking through over 20 tabs.

The interface is clean, but it really doesn't make use of available space.

Fortunately, all the metrics are very clearly explained and well represented, often in multiple formats. Take battery deviations. This tab tracks both minor battery deviations and major deviations and provides a thorough explanation of what these metrics relate to and dashboards that show the data in a clearly understandable way. 

Other pages, including those with graphs, do a good job showing the data and allowing interactivity when useful. For mapped features, the data is overlaid directly on Google Maps, with KML export options available.

Do I Need This?

If you’ve just picked up your first drone, many of these features may seem entirely unnecessary. Some of them are, and it’s clear that Airdata has positioned many of its features for an enterprise user. However, even the cheaper drones can represent hundreds of dollars of investment and may seem like a bit of a black box to a new user. Getting a peek “under the hood” can provide a good boost of confidence. Think something was a bit funky on that last flight? Load up the data, and you can quickly diagnose battery, controller, or signal issues. Being informed can go a long way to heading off a crash or flyaway.

If you’re a more experienced pilot, getting this level of insight can be fun, as well as useful. Whether it’s just getting to track your statistics or better understand how you can push the limits of your aircraft, there’s at least one feature here that can be useful for each flight, even if it’s just an overkill way of logging your favorite photo spots.

For users of any level, the HD Free tier is an unbeatable value, offering the core features of the platform without any cost. In fact, it’s a bit hard to justify upgrading to the higher tiers of service as a hobbyist. Airdata, please don’t take this as an invite to cripple the free tier! While I’m sure they have analytics to justify their price tiers, I’d love to see an advanced hobbyist level, where the battery tracking and maintenance features are available without having to jump up to their $84 or $180 a year service. Even if it just meant it’d cover one drone and five batteries, for instance, I think it’d be a great way to bring more paid users on board at a lower entry cost for them without diminishing the value proposition of the enterprise-centric services.

What I LIked

  • Clearly understandable UI and analysis
  • Useful metrics
  • Excellent scope of features even at the free tier
  • Built-in maps are good quality

What Could Be Improved

  • Design revamp to increase density: only 6% of my screen is being used to display info
  • Streamlined syncing: I find that I have to manually trigger a sync with most logins
  • A dark mode is always welcome, especially with this much whitespace

Closing Thoughts

Overall, this is a great tool for any drone pilot. Whether or not you get into the depths of flight logging and tracking, just the performance issue alerts alone are worth the effort of setting up sync. Checking in every couple of flights could help spot any flight readiness issues, a clear win for any user.

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