The Day I Decided To Adopt ELRS

Rest day 2 has arrived and my body is telling me I’m significantly older than my mind believes me to be.

Getting out of bed feels like bending cardboard the wrong way. My joints move but like they are rusty gates being forced to move for the first time in a decade. Slow and careful movements. Coffee. Return to bed. 

Some stretches and back twists later and we are up and fed and heading into town. Instead of walking or dragging ourselves up a mountain, today we are paying a machine to do it for us. There is a cable car that leaves right from the town centre.

On the way up we checked out another Via Ferrata. You have to get the cable car up to the mid station and then walk up what looks like another never ending set of switchbacks before you start touching rock. This is something we can’t even imagine right now. The route then ascends right beneath the cable car. It looks great but harder than the last 2 we have done. But having a pub directly at the top provides some incentive.

We are going to have to look up the scene, but apparently part of the film Cliffhanger was shot up here. There is an old cable car station that’s now just a concrete husk. Perfect for a high altitude bando bash with the drone. It was great fun, with an incredible view and some surprisingly strong updrafts over the edge. That shot the drone up even higher than expected and gave a slow dive back down which was odd. 

From up here you get a great view over Cortina d’Ampezzo. Its the end of a load of ski runs with more cable cars heading off in different directions and wide grassy slopes with plenty of space. 

With no physical activity planned, Angus, Aimi and Scott went to the bar while I set up another drone battery. I wanted to fly up to the top of the ski run and then swoop my way down. I buzzed off up the slope and after about 100m I thought I had better check the connection range having crashed once before on this trip. It was a good job I did because as soon as I turned around, I lost signal and dropped like a stone.

100m doesn’t sound very far, but up a steep ski slope, on a day when you’re creaky and tired is much further than you want to go. Also, given how far it had fallen, and how delicate the batteries can be, if it was damaged there is a real chance of it catching fire. I hobbled my way up the hill and eventually found it in a sorry state. Camera hanging out, bodywork snapped and ariels pulled out of their connectors. There is no fixing it this holiday, so that’s all the drone video I’ll be getting.

On the walk of shame I thought I had flown too low over a rise in the land and left line of sight. But after reviewing the video, I suspect the cause of the loss of signal is literally a limitation of the radio connection. I’ve got the ariels mounted at right angles so even if 1 of them is pointing the wrong way, the other should be picking up perfect signal. But I think turning the quad placed the body of it between me and the receiver and so it lost connection. This is particularly frustrating because I was being really careful not to fly behind the undulations in the ground, which is what caused my last failsafe.

Speaking of failsafe, this is what the onboard programming tells the quad to do when control signal is lost. Default setting and the most appropriate for most situations is to just disarm the quad and let it drop. However, my first crash was caused by flying behind a cliff so there was no direct line of sight between me and the quad. In this case, I could had set failsafe to level the quad out, punch up the throttle to gain a load of altitude and hopefully regain connection. This might have saved the first crash from happening. But then again, if it doesn’t regain control, your quad could literally just keep going to the moon and disappear. Limiting the throttle up for 3 seconds for example to give you a chance of connection, before disarming might be what I program next time I know I’m going outdoors.

But recently, a new type of radio connection had been released called ELRS or Express Long Range System. It’s an open source combination of hardware and software that is competing with private industry radio control links. It’s been getting a lot of press coverage recently because it’s cheaper to implement and has (purportedly) significant improvements in connection range. I’ve watched a few videos where normal quads get multiple kilometers of range. Until I had these crashes, I didn’t feel the need to upgrade because I was always staying close. But now it’s decided. If the signal can’t make it 100m in open sky, I must have been flying closer to the edge of its performance than I realised for a long time. It’s time to upgrade and join the ELRS herd. Hopefully it’s as good as the hype, but this will have to wait till I’m home.

Crash recovery complete, I enjoyed the walk of shame back down the hill to meet the crowd and rationalize the crash. They were all intensely interested (hence my reasoning has ended up in the blog) as we enjoyed the view and a beer.

Since our rise was late and we went up the cable car, again we arrived running late at a restaurant for lunch. The whole town shuts at 3pm till 5pm for a siesta so we ended up eating in a rapidly emptying establishment. But the food was good. Aimi and Angus had a local speciality – fresh ravioli made with beetroot filling. Scott had another local dish – meaty spiced dumplings. And I found a baked soft cheese wrapped in prosciutto ham. It was all delicious, even with the waiter breathing down our necks to finish and leave. 

We wandered around town and found a cafe that stayed open. We had some coffee and strudel (definitely my favourite pudding out here) with brave little birds dancing around our feet picking up crumbs. The servers didn’t seem bothered that the birds were in the shop, it must be a regular thing now.