Home » Product Reviews » MARCO POLO TRACKING SYSTEM

MARCO POLO TRACKING SYSTEM

By Erick Royer

MP-101_Locator_System_Package

A MULTIROTOR TRACKING SYSTEM?
No they did not actually name the product a “Multirotor” tracking system, but let me tell you how great this product is from Fido to Phantom…and why I wished I found it sooner.

Last Sunday I was flying my multirotor and went through the standard GPS initialization procedure and began a flight to record some video. Six minutes into the flight, I flew to about 70 feet and lost control of the model; none of my stick inputs were responding.  I tried to activate the return to home feature and Nothing… The machine ended up flying away and after four days of searching the dense, snow-packed, heavily-wooded mountain; sadly, we still have not recovered it.

The Marco Polo handheld GPS tracker.
The Marco Polo handheld tracker.

Since then I have been on a mission to locate a solution; a tracking device that would be able to aid me in the event that something like this happened again.  I looked at many cell-based and GPS-based systems and there are some inherent problems with each.  A cell-based system is not going to work in a mountain where there is no cell service, such as where we were located.   A GPS-based solution could work but the GPS signal could be affected in dense wooded areas.  That is when I came across a unique pet tracking device called Marco Polo Pet Monitoring/Tracking and Locating System.

HOW IT WORKS

  1.  Charge the transceiver tag
  2. Install on your multirotor
  3. In the event your model goes missing, Activate the tracking function on the transmitter
  4. Follow the directional arrow and signal strength indicator on the handheld tracking unit
  5. That is it!

The Marco Polo does not use cell service or GPS.  It operates like a “personal radar”. When your model is lost, the handheld locator transmits a signal to the tag transceiver in your model. The transceiver sends a signal back that allows the locator to determine the bearing from your position to the lost model. The locator will then process the bearing and the received signal strength level once every 5 seconds and displays that on the LCD screen. The bearing indication becomes more and more sensitive as you approach your model. And together with frequent updates, Marco Polo allows you to home in on your model’s exact location, to within inches.

 

This is the display screen on the tracking device.
This is the display screen on the tracking device.

For pets the transmitter would be placed on your dogs collar.  On a multirotor, the device can be zip-tied or attached with Velcro to your machine.   In the event of a crash, you simply activate the ‘track’ feature and it looks for the transceiver tag and activates it.  The  unit has a range of up to 2 miles which, in most cases, is more than adequate when flying line of sight.   If you are flying long range FPV, then most likely your video transmitter or OSD would have this tracking information.   In the event that your model flies outside the 2 mile radius, you can drive, walk or hike towards the direction you last saw the model and as soon as you are within range, it will show up on the handheld tracker.  It will bring you to a matter of inches from the transceiver (your model).

SPECIFICATIONS

Method: Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) 50 Channels
Band: ISM 902.5 Mhz. – 906.5 Mhz.
License Requirements: ISM/unlicensed, operates under FCC Part 15 Section 247
Modulation: FSK
Transmit Power: 250 mW

System Range
– Open terrain, flat with few obstructions: 2 miles typical
– Open terrain, rolling hills with few obstructions: up to .5-1 mile
– Dense suburban areas: 2,000 ft. typical
† Ranges shown are typical under controlled testing. Your results will vary with your actual conditions.

System Capacity
– 
Up to 3 tags per Locator

Locator Physical Specifications
Height: 6 in. (152mm)
Width: 3.5 in. (90mm)
Depth: 1.75 in. (44mm)
Weight: 7.8 oz. (221g)

Locator Battery†
–  Rechargeable Li•ion battery (included)
–  Charge lasts 3 days when in continuous tracking mode
† Battery charge life values shown are typical. Your experience may vary with your actual use, battery age and ambient temperature.

Tag Physical Specifications
Height: 2.25 in. (64 mm)
Width: 1.25 in. (29 mm)
Depth: 1.25 in. (29 mm)
Weight: 1.6 oz. (46 g)

Tag Battery†
– Rechargeable Li•ion battery, included (non-user serviceable)
– Charge life (idle mode): 30 days
– Charge life (tracking mode): 8 days
† Battery charge life values shown are typical. Your experience may vary with your actual use.

Tag Waterproofing
– Rain and shallow submersion up to 6″ water for 10 mins.

 

Transceiver Tag installed on our Hexcopter for testing.
Transceiver Tag installed on our Hexcopter for testing.

A range of 2 miles is impressive, but this distance can be lessened by the topography of the area as well as buildings and other obstacles.  However, you will not have to worry about heavy cover affecting GPS signal or being in a no cell service area.  The transmitter battery lasts about 30 days so you can locate your model up to a month after the crash.

I have no worries about the Marco Polo interfering with my RC system communications because the tag transceiver in the model never transmits unless activated by the handheld locator when the “tracking mode” is enabled by me. So, during flight there is no possibility of the transceiver interfering with or desensitizing your on-board radios. Once tracking mode is activated by the locator, the Marco Polo system operates by using frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) on 50 frequencies between 902.5 and 906.5 Mhz. Additionally, Marco Polo only dwells on any single frequency for approximately 50 milliseconds once every 4 minutes.

In my research I found that the Marco Polo is one of the smallest and lightest RC model tracking and recovery solution available, its range of operation greatly exceeds that of other solutions on the market. The Marco Polo tag ‘s stock configuration (includes battery and enclosure) weighs only 1.6 oz (46 g ). Without the enclosure, the tag electronics and battery weigh .8 oz (22.7 g). You can purchase additional Marco Polo Tag Accessories for around $83.00.

THE FINAL WORD

When you consider the value of the multirotor that you are flying, especially when outfitted with a camera system like mine was, it is not hard to justify the cost of around $220 for a tracking system to help recover a $1000+ aircraft.  You can have up to three tags for use with one handheld tracker so you can purchase additional tags to permanently install in your copters.  I only wish I had this system last weekend as I would have rather located a crashed machine than nothing at all. You can get more information and purchase a system at Marco Polo.

 

 

One comment

  1. Wow, this seems like THE answer to something that has been on my mind for a few weeks since completing my F550. Thank you very much.

    Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *