Why do you need a tracking device? What’s the deal with tracking devices? Some use cellular others use RF and some use bluetooth. Which is the best and which one works for you? I will answer these questions in this article. As the answer to this question is… The best tracker for your drone depends on your needs, where you will be flying, what your comfort level is, and what your budget is. See the table at the end of this post which contains 11 different trackers and breaks them down.
Why Do You Need A Tracking Device?
Why do you need a tracking device? The answer is simply put, to avoid losing your drone. Especially, if you have a more expensive drone. Now the more expensive drones do have GPS capabilities. So you might be thinking ah its got GPS I’ll be fine. But let me educate you.
Yes, the drone does have a telemetry GPS system that communicates data back to your transmitter/display. This includes your heading, speed, elevation, latitude, and longitude. However, if the connection is broken from your telemetry system to your transmitter, then the GPS system on the drone is useless. Your drone will know exactly where it is…but you won’t.
Most of the more expensive drones with GPS, have a Return To Home function (RTH). This is commonly programmed onto the transmitter as a switch or button. One can flip the switch or press the button and the drone will return to its set home point. The home point usually defaults to the location that the drone is turned on at. However, it is highly recommended that you set this location.
If you forget to set up your RTH there is a chance that your drone will try to return to the previously set home or simply fly away in the same heading it had when the signal was lost. So in a perfect world where nothing goes wrong and everything is perfect, with a GPS enabled drone and RTH set up, you should not even need a tracker.
Trackers are a great failsafe. It is redundancy for some drones, a necessity for others and not required for some smaller drones. As the real need for a tracking device comes down to how confident you are with the system your drone has and how much you don’t want to lose your drone.
Different Types Of Tracking Devices
There are several different types of trackers. These include Bluetooth trackers, RF trackers, and GPS/GSM trackers. Each type has different pros and cons. I have not purchased and used every single one of these and rated them from best to worst. Each person will have different needs and where a Bluetooth Tracker will be the best option for one user here the next person would be much better off with a GPS tracker.
I will go through the different types and most popular trackers in each type. There is a table at the end that compares all of them. I suggest going through this and first figure out what type you need. Then look into what your detailed requirements are along with your budget.
Bluetooth Trackers have the shortest range. They are commonly used for tracking household items with the most popular in the market being the Tile. I have personally had a tile on my keys before and it is extremely useful. The map shows where the Tile is approximately located and when you are close you can make it ring from the app on your phone.
The biggest con to these Bluetooth trackers is the range. Technology is improving with them. The best Bluetooth trackers on the market a year or two ago had a range of 150′. Now the new Tile Pro has a range of 400′. Still, if you drone flys away there’s a very good chance it is going more than 400′ away from you.
But, Tile does have a neat crowdsourcing feature. This is why I think if you live in a heavily populated area and fly your drone in a park, a tile could be a good option. So how does the crowdsourcing feature work?
Let’s say you are in the park and you have a Tile Pro on your drone. You lose connection because you fly too high and the wind suddenly picks up and carries your drone away. It is way out of range of the Bluetooth capabilities of your phone & Tile.
However, you go onto your Tile app and put that Tile into lost mode. If a Tile user walks by within 400′ of your drone and Tile, their phone will automatically update the location of your Tile in the app. They will have no idea as it happens in the background and only you will be notified of the location of your drone. It effectively puts an APB out for your Tile.
If you think this crowdsourcing feature is a little far-fetched and would not work, check out this guy’s story here. It is a perfect example of how effective a Tile can be in a populated area.
If you are planning on flying mostly out of town, in the wilderness. Then this is not the tracker for you. It’s neat out in Neature but not effective for Bluetooth Trackers.
The batteries last for quite a while in these trackers (up to a year). And there are no monthly fees for tracking. Once you pay for the tracker you won’t incur any extra cost.
The classic Tile Mate comes in at 8 grams and $17 with a range of 150′. If you are going to pursue Bluetooth as a means of tracking this is probably your cheapest option.
I’d recommend paying twice as much for the Tile Pro as it more than doubles your range. With the Tile Pro (2020) coming in at 15.5 grams, $35 and 400′ of range. It is slightly heavier than the Tile mate but 7 grams would not be noticed on most drones.
Radio Frequency Trackers
Radio Frequency Identification (RF/RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to track tags. They will have a reader device that sends this signal looking for its counterpart, the tag. They generally have a longer range than Bluetooth and a higher accuracy (<1 inch). Think of RF tracking like using a metal detector. You sweep back and forth and depending on the reading, you hone in on the direction of the tag.
Being Canadian, I ski in the backcountry whenever I can. This involves wearing an avalanche beacon. If I get buried, my buddies flip a switch on their beacons and can track my location. They lock onto the radio frequency that is coming out of my beacon and it directs them to where the avalanche carried me. Then they can probe and dig me out. RF trackers for drones work the same way, just a different and less scary situation.
The Loc8tor Lite (now called TabCat) is an option that people have used in the past to track their drones. However, It is sold as a tracker for your pet!
Originally intended for cats the tag weighs in at only 6 grams. It has a range of ~ 400′. It will do a much better job than a Bluetooth tracker at directing you towards the location of the tag. Via use of chirps and the lights indicator it will guide you towards the tag until you can hear the tag beeping.
Check out this guys review of the system here. But, do note, that review is 4 years old. Hence, the new TabCat name and his mention of Bluetooth not being good at all.
Now there is another cat tracker that I found that boasts a range of 1600 ft. Researched more into it and people have been utilizing it on their drones as well. Girafus tag only weighs 8 grams and comes in cheaper than the TabCat at $64.99 over $99.99.
I do think the TabCat has better user-friendliness to it but Girafus has a powerful reader and better range.
RF range is affected by obstructions! Sure you might get the full 400′ or 1600′ in an open field but once you add obstacles this can be cut down. Just something to keep in mind.
The best and most popular RF tracker for drones is the Marco Polo Drone Tracking System. If you are flying in more remote areas and have an expensive drone, then this is a good option. With a 2 mile range, it is pretty badass.
The tag only weighs 12g and it doesn’t constantly put out a signal. It waits for the handheld (Radar gun looking device) to ping it and then it returns a signal. This prevents any sort of interference that could happen while flying.
The range does get cut down with obstacles such as buildings and trees. This could be cut down all the way to a 1/2 mile. However, you should have some telemetry data from whatever app you were using. DJI GO should be able to give you a better idea in its flight log your last known heading, elevation, speed etc.
Another disadvantage is having to pack around the bulky gun. At least it comes with a nice case and hey better to be prepared and pack it than to lose your drone. You can always leave the gun in the car and come back for it if you lose your drone.
If you fly away or are further than 2 miles out I wouldn’t freak out if I had a Marco Polo System. You can use the flight data and estimate the drone’s location. Then set up a grid search. and slowly expand on the area. The tag’s battery lasts about 10 days so you have plenty of time to track it down.
The best thing about this tracker is… (It is by far the best RF tracker)
It has no monthly fees associated with it. And it doesn’t rely on any cell signal. If you are the type to fly fairly remote and don’t mind splashing some cash on a good tracker. I would highly recommend it.
GPS/GSM Trackers work by using their Global Positioning System to figure their Longitude and Latitude and then they send a message, containing this info, using the Global Systems for Mobile (ie Cell phone signal) to your phone.
The range on these is basically infinite. However, if there is no cell signal it will not be able to communicate the GPS coordinates back to you. So… yes the range is infinite but the range is actually 0 if you fly in an area with no cell signal. So a numerical number for the range is simply N/A.
This cell signal required a SIM card in the tracker and therefore has a monthly cost associated with it. Most of the drones come with a guide for setting up the SIM. Some trackers come with a SIM card that works only for CA & USA. While others often come with a SIM card that works worldwide.
A neat feature most of these trackers include is geofencing. This lets you set up a virtual “fence”. If your tracker/drone crosses the fence it will alert you. This is useful for knowing whether or not you are out of the area you wanted to be in.
Lots of people talk about using Trackimo to track their drones. It looks like recently they released a 2020 model they called the Tracki. There are several differences between the two.
The older Trackimo comes with a 1 year plan. However, that is taken into account in the price difference. With the Tracki (2020) coming in $159 cheaper than the Trackimo. Then you pick what you want your monthly plan to be. This is useful especially if you have a drone business and know you will be flying a lot for the next year or 2 years.
The reviews seem to be better on the Tracki. The Trackimo had a 2G version at one time that simply stopped working, which obviously caused quite the uproar. I would suggest getting the new model and picking your plan out.
The Scout was intended more for use with your car as it comes with a hardwire kit. Honestly, I don’t really recommend this tracker. I initially added it here as another person had recommended it. But, it’s expensive ($250) and it doesn’t even come with batteries. Then people are having trouble canceling the monthly when they didn’t want it. Setup is an issue but the user interface does look good.
Dronescape Find the Drone. This is another tracker I don’t really recommend. It was a good tracker at one point in time. I’m sure in your research you may have seen it. However, it is about 6 years old. The way technology is these days that puts it at a pretty big disadvantage. It actually uses 2G technology which is a much smaller transmission rate of data compared to the standard 3G. Of course, now we have 4G and 5G but for drone tracking, you should have at least 3G.
Flytrex Live 3G, as the name suggests makes use of the 3G network. It is also fairly old and was one of the first to take advantage of the 3G network. This tracker is more of a black box. It relies on your drone’s battery power so if it is not a Phantom 2 you will have to solder it onto the Power distribution board. This can be a hassle but nice to not have to worry about charging it. It does not have a service fee and just has the monthly cost of whatever plan you get. The smallest amount of data to a sim can be as cheap as $4/mo.
TK102, uses a passive GPS tracking rather than active like most of the other trackers here. Passive means it does not constantly update you on the location of your drone. Rather, once you “lose” your drone or want to know the whereabouts of your tracker, you simply text the number associated with the sim you popped in. It then texts you back a google maps link with the GPS coordinates.
I’ve had a thought about some of these trackers that I would like to test. If you always fly with a friend or have someone with you. Why not pop their sim card out of their phone, possibly use an adapter, and put it in the tracker. Then you don’t get stuck into a monthly fee that you don’t use all the time but are still good to go when you fly!
You should not be texting or calling while you are flying anyways…although…if your friends text you they are going to get a text back with GPS coordinates and be like WTH?
See the table below for a list of all the GPS/RF/Bluetooth trackers. Check them out for more information. I hope this table and guide is a good resource to get you started in your tracking search.
11 Different Trackers For Your Drone
|Tile Mate||Bluetooth||150 ft||8g||$16.99||N/A||Click Here|
|Tile Pro (2020)||Bluetooth||400 ft||15.5g||$34.99||N/A||Click Here|
|TabCat||RF||400 ft||6g||$99.99||N/A||Click Here|
|Girafus||RF||1600 ft||8g||$64.99||N/A||Click Here|
|Marco Polo Drone Tracking System||RF||2 miles||12g||$219.95||N/A||Click Here|
|Trackimo (2019)||GPS/GSM||N/A||40g||$198||1 year free – $5/mo||Click Here|
|Tracki (2020)||GPS/GSM||N/A||35g||$39||$9.95 – $19.95/mo||Click Here|
|Scout Universal||GPS/GSM||N/A||45g||$250||1 year free – $8/mo||Click Here|
|DroneScape Find the Drone||GPS/GSM||N/A||85g||$95||1 year free – $5/mo||Click Here|
|Flytrex Live 3G||GPS/GSM||N/A||31g||$182||$4/mo||Click Here|