Can drones fly in rain?
Unless you’ve got one of those underwater drones, like the Gladius Mini underwater drone or the PowerRay drone from PowerVision, we don’t recommend submerging drones underwater. And trust me, in the early Drone Girl days, I might have sent a drone directly into the bottom of a lake once.
But some drones are more waterproof than others. And especially when it comes to enterprise-grade drones used for certain commercial and industrial applications, your drone might actually be quite fine in the rain.
Water resistant drones to know
These days, it’s much easier to find a water-resistant drone than what you might’ve found a decade ago.
For example, the DJI Matrice 200 Series of drones was specifically designed to be water and weather resistant, capable of flying in sub-zero conditions. The drone has since been discontinued from production, but drones from the series, such as the DJI Matrice 210 V2, are still in stock from major electronics retailers such as B&H Photo.
All the drones in the Matrice 200 series have what’s called an IP43 protection rating, which means they’re proven to be able to maintain stable flight in light rain weather conditions (less than 10mm/h rainfall). But even still, there are limitations. In the Matrice 200 case, only the aircraft is considered water resistant, while the cameras are not covered by the protection rating. And if somehow water does damage your aircraft, DJI’s product warranty won’t cover it, so, uh, proceed with flying in the rain at your own risk.
Given that, you might opt for the upgraded DJI Matrice 300 RTK, which has an IP45 protection rating. That 45 versus 43 (you guessed it) means even higher protection against water. But even this has its own limitations. For example, DJI warns users that the IP45 protection rating is not permanently effective, and it may over time decrease due to wear and tear. Luckily, you can fly it in more-powerful rain than the Matrice 200, but DJI advises against flying it in rain heavier than 100mm/24h.
Other water-resistant drones from companies other than DJI include the Autel EVO Max 4T.
Watch Wing delivery drones fly in rain
And then here’s a pretty neat example of a drone flying in the rain — though you won’t be able to buy this one. Wing, the drone delivery-focused sister company of Google, released footage of its drone flying in actual rain, as well as getting doused in some serious water in a simulation of rain.
In a statement alongside its video, Wing said that its drones are capable of safely delivering a package in a strong breeze and even rain. A statement from Wing added that the company has tested its drones specifically in climates that aren’t exactly ever known for being mild (e.g. winter test flights in Alaska and farther north than Helsinki, Finland — as well as in the brutally-humid summer heat of Texas).
Wing says that, to-date, it’s delivered more 300,000 orders that were under less-than-ideal climate conditions, such as in high winds or in especially high (or low) heat.
Watch videos of Wing drones fly in rain here:
The ability for delivery drones to fly in rain is important for several reasons, including the very basic fact that rain might occur unexpectedly — and that might cause safety concerns to ensure drones avoid collisions and can maintain stability even in an unforeseen weather event.
But there’s a far more practical reason, and that’s drones being used for emergency deliveries. If a drone is there to deliver medical supplies or other critical items quickly, then weather could limit the ability to make these emergency deliveries.
And the reality is that delivery drones are designed to be a faster and more efficient way to deliver packages compared to traditional methods like ground transportation — but that all goes out the window if a little rain holds them up. If a drone cannot fly in rain, it could be grounded for extended periods of time, causing delays in deliveries and potential revenue losses.
How do you make drones waterproof?
While tactics to help drones fly in rain might vary by drone maker, there are a few things an engineer might do to make drones (and any electronics, really) waterproof (or at least water-resistant). While we’re not necessarily saying these tactics are found in all drones, certain electronics-waterproofing tactics might include:
- Encapsulation: The encapsulation process, which involves coating the electronic components in a protective layer of material (such as epoxy resin or silicone) creates a barrier around the electronics, preventing water from coming into contact with the delicate components.
- Sealing: Adding a sealant or gasket around the edges of the electronic device can prevent water from entering. For example, the edges of your smartphone or smartwatch are likely sealed with a rubber gasket to keep water out.
- Waterproof membranes: Some electronics have a thin, waterproof membrane applied to the surface made from materials like polyurethane or Gore-Tex, which are designed to allow air and moisture to pass through while keeping water out.
- Nano-coatings: This is a relatively new technology that involves coating the surface of electronic components with a super-thin layer of liquid-repellent material at a nano-scale level to create a hydrophobic layer that repels water.
- Design improvements: Sometimes it’s as simple as improving the design of the drone (e.g. moving components that are most vulnerable to water damage to a more-protected part of the drone).
What are IP ratings?
Ratings like the aforementioned IP43 and IP45 are used to indicate the level of protection provided by an enclosure against elements like dust and water.
The IP rating system stands for “Ingress Protection,” where rated items are followed by two digits. The first digit ranges from 0 to 6 and indicates the level of protection against solid objects such as dust, while the second digit ranges from 0 to 9 and indicates the level of protection against water (so the Matrice 300 RTK is two points more water-resistant than the DJI M200, but both have equal dust protection).
More specifically, IP43 offers protection against water spray at any angle up to 60 degrees from the vertical, while IP45 offers protection against water jets at any angle up to 180 degrees from the vertical.