tBeacon – Lost Model/Plane/Multicopter GPS Tracker

Recently I received the tBeacon GPS tracker for lost multicopter/plane RC models. I haven’t used this device long enough yet to make a in-depth review, so this post is more of a introductory post.

Nowadays most flight controllers supports buzzer and bright LEDs, that can be triggered by a TX switch, so you can find it after it’s crashed and lost in tall grass. However there are a few problems with this solution.

  • It relies on the main lipo battery, in a crash it’s possible that your lipo gets disconnected.
  • If quadcopter crashed too far away, you cannot hear the buzzer or see the LED light.
  • Even if the main lipo is still connected, battery can run down very quickly within hours. (imagine with all the FPV gears and electronics connected you will be drawing more than 500mA per hour, for a 50% full 2000mAh battery, you only have about 2 hours to find your model before the buzzer stop working)

And the tBeacon tracker solves these problems by:

  • Independent power source, a small, light weight 1S  lipo battery. (It is claimed that 50mah miny battery is enough for 7 days of standby time)
  • Voltage monitoring of the Main Lipo battery
  • Activation via call from UHF handheld radio or by timer
  • Built-in Loud Buzzer and Bright LED
  • Sends back GPS coordinates from on board GPS unit, to your handheld radio.
  • weights only 5.5g including 50mah battery.
  • Programmable

A quick demo what it does.

Visit tBeacon’s website for more detail. And discussion on RCGroups.

tBeacon UHF beacon with GPS - package content

 

tBeacon UHF beacon with GPS - connected wire tBeacon UHF beacon with GPS - unit with lipo battery

Thoughts

First impression is, i think they need to make some casing for the unit. At the moment they provide heatshrink, but I think better protection and water-proof is needed.

Configuration software is reported to contain malware by my antivirus. This was mentioned in the FAQ and it says it’s completely safe, and suggest antivirus should be disabled to run it. I really think they should fix this issue.

I mainly fly mini quads, which don’t have on-board GPS. Also I don’t fly too far out anyway so the GPS reporting feature is not really needed. So i was trying to setup this tracker to be triggered by timer, but no luck. Manual is detailed, but the explanation is not very clear.  And I don’t have a UHF handheld radio to test other features yet.

Lastly I really want to see them do a simpler version tracker for small size, short range multicopters, that only has loud buzzer and super bright LEDs. It shouldn’t require any extra hardware (such as a hand held radio), and should be able to connect to a radio receiver or flight controller. It should be able to be activated by a TX AUX switch, or detect lost of signal/lost of power.

12 thoughts on “tBeacon – Lost Model/Plane/Multicopter GPS Tracker

  1. Andrea Hobi

    Hi Oscar

    When I order the TBeacon, does it comes allready with the beeper for close range detecting ?
    I want to use the TBEacon for a drone (Vortex) without GPS, in case I crash and I cant find it…
    I want to be able to locate it within about 200 meters, with RSSI feature (the 3 tunes).
    Is this possible ?
    Thanks, Andrea

    Reply
  2. Steve

    Hi Oscar,

    Have you checked out Tile? I’ve been flying one on all my mini’s for a few months now, and Flite Test recently did a video on them as well. Basically, it is a tiny low energy bluetooth tracker with a loud beacon tone. Stick one to your quad, and if you crash, you can use your smartphone to find it within a hundred yards or so. And if you can’t find it, you can mark it as lost, and if anyone running the Tile app on their phone comes within range, you’ll be notified (not the person nearby) that your item has been somewhat located. It is a sealed, water RESISTANT (not fully waterPROOF) unit with a permanent 1 year battery. Amazon has them for $25 each, or 4 for $70, and once you register them, they give you special low cost pricing to replace them every year when the battery runs out. I just recently started to fly with LED’s, which certainly makes finding lost machines easier, but before that, it was nearly impossible to find an all black 250 in the woods. Tile pays for itself many times over if you only use it once, and I’ve used mine successfully on quite a few occasions.

    -Steve

    Reply
  3. lo0p

    Hi Oscar,

    What are your thoughts on the potential for interference? I’ve always thought that anything emitting a frequency and within close proximity of my receiver would negatively impact signal strength.

    Reply
    1. Konstantin

      Hi Oscar,

      That’s an emergency beacon. It should emit a radio signal _only_ in case of “unplanned landing”, when the receiver is already useless. Of course, one can always shoot in the foot and set a timer beacon which will go off during flight and can make some mess. :)
      I recommend avoiding this, and therefore avoid a timer beacon, and it is recommended to always trigger the beacon with a call from handheld radio.

      Reply
      1. _tzz_

        the timer actually proves successful as in already proven drones. Turning the transmitter off/loosing signal and after 2 minutes, the drone will go into “return home” mode.

        But apparently the drones are not very well at judging altitude, and/or battery efficiency needed to get back home or a safe emergency beacon landing mode.

  4. Konstantin

    Hi Oscar,

    Thanks for the review!
    It’s a pity you don’t have a handheld radio. All of the features of the beacon are based on the radio interaction.
    I hope you’re still interested and an in-depth review is yet to come :)

    Regarding waterproofing: I recommend to cover the PCB with some waterproof coating like a liquid electrical tape. I do not think it’s a big deal, especially for those who are able to assemble a miniquad from scratch :) Moreover, it is always a good idea to waterproof all the electronics of a drone.
    Also, I’m planning to design a simple casing for the beacon, as soon as I get acquainted with my 3d printer. Too complicated for me yet :)
    Could you tell me which antivirus do you use? I want to contact with their techs to resolve the issue. Also I’m planning to redesign the configurator as a Chrome app, as I’m fed up of disputing with AV teams :(

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hey Konstaintin

      absolutely :) i will look into getting a handheld radio when i have a chance!
      my AV is Symantec, but yes, a Chrome app is the way to go! Cross platform and no AV promps :)

      Reply
    2. Oscar Post author

      By the way, could you teach me how to set this up as a timer based only tracker? lets say, it starts beeping after 60 mins?
      I played around with the settings with no joy…
      thanks
      Oscar

      Reply
      1. Konstantin

        Hi Oscar,

        I suppose you like to activate the buzzer, not the radio…
        Unfortunately with the current firmware the beacon will be silent unless it hears a calling tone near. This is by design, to avoid excess attention to the crash site :)
        For testing purposes I could make a firmware which will do exactly what you describe. It’s not hard at all.
        Please tell me if you’d like it that way.

      2. Oscar Post author

        Hi Konstantin
        Yes i understand what you mean by excess attention :D
        I think it would be nice to see different options :) a new firmware (or option in the main firmware) would be nice :)

        thanks
        Oscar

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