DJI’s new firmware has certainly stirred the pot in the professional community. With restrictions popping up in unexpected places, the professional drone pilot community has been deluged with stories of unfulfilled contracts and sometimes downright enragement over this new firmware. But what’s really going on?
What's the issue?
With the release of the newest product in DJI's consumer line, the Spark, came a firmware update that… “sparked” the controversy (pun intended). If you don’t know, professional flyers have a special certificate from the FAA known as a 'Part 107,' which allows you to charge for your services. This certificate reflects your knowledge of how to properly navigate airspace per FAA regulations.
When DJI introduced the consumer-friendly Spark drone, it also introduced new firmware that was not so friendly to professional flyers.
For example, we all know (or should at least) that flying within 5-miles of an airport is restricted airspace. There are different classes of restricted airspace, which we don't need to discuss in detail here, but one way to get around these restrictions is to call the tower responsible for the airspace and give them an advisement of when you’ll be flying, and for how long. They’ll come back and let you know if you’re cleared or not.
How DJI handled this in the past
In previous versions of the DJI firmware, if you were flying in an area with restrictions, a warning would pop up and you could simply click an acknowledgement button, then go ahead and fly. This was great for pros, but unfortunately some non-Part 107 pilots have made life difficult for all of us by clicking this acknowledgement and proceeding to fly where they shouldn’t. For example, just look at the recent case of pilot flying a drone near a fire that grounded all the firefighting airplanes as a result.
DJI's new solution
DJI's new solution is rather draconian: simply ground all drones in restricted airspace. If you have legitimate reason and proper training to fly in a restricted zone, you can email DJI for a temporary unlock for a specific zone. However, it can take 24 hours and beyond to get unlocked. And you won’t know if it actually worked until you get on set. This is completely impractical for Part 107 pilots, as doing a test flight the day before is most-often unacceptable – for clients and logistics alike.
Furthermore, these restricted 'zones' sometimes pop up in unrestricted areas. Again, you won’t know until you actually get on set. Also, some of these restricted zones can’t be unlocked for any reason, even though a Part 107 pilot can get authorization from the FAA. Finally, the DJI unlock code is not valid if you use any 3rd party mapping software, even though DJI has released its API.
|When DJI introduced the new restrictions with their GEO protocol, social media exploded...|
DJI: The new drone police?
So, is it DJI’s job to police airspace, or have they gone too far? In 2015, someone landed a DJI Phantom 2+ on the White House lawn and people went nuts. So DJI responded by restricting some government spaces, like the White House and Pentagon. Nobody complained. Then they added some major airports. Nobody complained. Then they added the entire FAA map. Nobody complained. Now, they’ve created an entire bureaucracy of their own which is even more strict than the FAA. Have they gone too far?
Professional pilots fighting together
Some drone pilots have banded together with the thought in mind to sue DJI in a class action law suit. However, a quick look at the license agreement that people agree to when using a DJI drone precludes this action. It’s in the third paragraph… you should read it. Basically, often times a company is motivated to settle a class action dispute because the costs of courts and trials are extremely high. Arbitration is low. Furthermore, preventing groups from banding together means that every single case is settled independently. Privately, and quietly. It puts all the power in DJI’s hands.
Other professionals have vowed to no longer endorse nor use DJI products. DJI is so big because of the professionals. When other brands were on top right along with them, DJI made sure to tell everyone what was shot with their equipment. Now, they’ve grown to be such a monster company that few people even care anymore. Again, the power is in DJI’s court.
Plus, what professional can seriously justify re-purchasing all their drones from different manufacturers now? Not this one. Sure, they may not buy DJI again until this problem is remedied… but how much does that cost DJI? Not a lot.
So, what’s the motivation for DJI to find some sort of compromise, or roll back this (terrible) idea? Honestly, I’m struggling to figure it out.
A lot of professionals are likening DJI to Apple on this front (yours truly included). DJI, like Apple, started with products designed for the hobbyist. DJI then moved to products for professionals, and kicked the collective rear-ends of their competition with products like the Phantom and Spreading Wings series. Finally, they transitioned to a more consumer market (Phantom Standard, Mavic, Spark), and stopped paying so much attention to the professional.
How do we solve this?
Believe it or not, quite a bit of the United States is in some type of controlled airspace. Augment that with these phantom zones (uncontrolled airspace, but for some reason still designated as no-fly zones by DJI), and the likelihood that you'll be unable to fly your drone where you want, when you want, is greatly increased.
And that's just in the US! DJI no-fly zones affect the entire planet!
|Unsure of just how much air space is restricted? Take a look at this FAA map of the area around Houston, Texas.|
DJI, I hope you read this article. I hope this was just a mistake. I’ve used your products from the very beginning (Wookong M v1), and have always loved them. But in all honestly, I don’t believe it’s your place to restrict airspace. It’s not your place to override a lawful professional’s ability to fly in a way that is conducive to his or her business. You make great products. Keep making them, but stop being some sort of bureaucratic authority.
If you truly want to make things work, and try to cooperate with the FAA, I have a very simple idea. Have the mobile device running the DJI GO app send a ping to the FAA if a drone enters restricted airspace and forward the ping to the tower controlling that airspace. If the tower did not authorize the drone, then there is already a mechanism in place from the FAA to handle the situation.
One truth here is self-evident: it is the pilot's responsibility to know where and when they can fly. Even amateurs can get permission from a tower to fly in a restricted zone. This is not a privilege reserved for pros. DJI's older method of handling restricted airspace (informing and forcing the user to acknowledge) puts the responsibility right where it belongs: on the pilot.
But hey… that’s just my opinion. Feel free to comment, and tell us your opinion! Is DJI overstepping, or did they do the right thing?
Ty Audronis has been a professional multicopter pilot in the television and cinema industry since 2003. He also consults on post-production technology, and is on the advisory board for SOAC (Society of Aerial Cinematography).
|Moorhen Steps by Nader El Assy|
from Get moving
|Morning frost by Kaappo|
from Letterbox format (2:1 ratio at least)
|Boulders and the Milkyway-4483 by vbuhay|
from Adrift in space and time - our place in the Universe
Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is under fire today after video and photos seem to show him purposely kicking photographer Chelsea Lauren in the face during last night's performance. His apologies, so far, have not gone over well.
Customer feedback has convinced the makers of the light-field camera to consider open-sourcing the pictures.lytro.com platform it discontinued last week.
Hot on the heels of the Lensrentals and LensProToGo merger, gadget rental service Lumoid has announced that it is shutting down for good.
Smartphones once again dominated Flickr's most popular cameras of 2017, making up half of all uploads, but it's not all bad news for 'real' cameras. In fact, DSLR use is on the rise again.
NiSi Filters has announced a new variable ND filter that offers 1.5 stops and 5 stop of density variation and, at least according to the company, doesn't suffer from the dreaded X-effect at its most extreme settings.
National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen and the Sea Legacy team were filming through tears, as they documented some of the final hour of a starving polar bear's life. The resulting video is haunting.
This year, plenty of amazing cameras, lenses, accessories and other products came through our doors. As 2017 winds down, we're highlighting some of our standout products of the year. Check out the winners of the 2017 DPReview Awards!
Maybe you want better photos in low light. Maybe you're tired of digital zoom. Whatever the reason, if you're looking for a capable, beginner-friendly camera to grow and learn with, we've got you covered.
The Olympus 17mm F1.2 promises to open up new possibilities for Micro Four Thirds shooters seeking razor-thin depth-of-field and smooth, 'feathered' bokeh. Take a peek at our extensive sample gallery.
Are you a speed freak? Hungry to photograph anything that goes 'zoom'? Or perhaps you just want to get Sports Illustrated-level shots of your child's soccer game. Keep reading to find out which cameras we think are best for sports and action shooting.
Still yearning for an Aperture replacement? Here's a quick overview of RAW Power, a Raw image editor for iOS that pairs with the Mac application introduced in 2016. Take a look at some of its capabilities.
Video features have become an important factor to many photographers when choosing a new camera. Read on to find out which cameras we think are best for the videophile.
Tech lover Albert Lee was one of the first to pre-order the intriguing 16-camera module Light L16. Two months in, here's what he has to say about using this not-so-little computational camera.
The public art installation featured blurred portraits, ostensibly captured by the artist under that same underpass... except they weren't. They were actually portraits of comedians, pulled from the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival program.
Edelkrone has upgraded its SliderOne with a SliderOne Pro and introduced a new generation of Wing and Wing Pro models, all while simultaneously improving the app that controls its entirely lineup.
People have waiting a long time for the Canon 85mm F1.4L IS lens, but how does it compare to Canon's 85mm F1.2L and Sigma's 85mm F1.4 Art? Phillip Pettit of Lensrentals took all three lenses for a spin to find out.
Affinity Photo for iPad, one of the first full-featured Raw editors designed specifically for tablet use, has been named Apple's Best iPad App of 2017. And what's more, it's currently 50% off!
VSCO Messages allows VSCO X subscribers and free users alike to share text, images, photo editing 'recipes', VSCO journal entries and more.
Flickr has revealed their top 25 photos of 2017, and there are some truly stunning shots in the mix.
Testing of the Canon G1 X Mark III is well underway, inside of the studio and out. We've just added it to our test scene comparison tool, where you can take a look at its performance side-by-side against peers like the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V.
Whether it's a trip to the beach for some snorkeling or scrambling up a 10,000 ft volcano, the Olympus Tough TG-5 proved to be a great travel companion for Jeff. That's why it's his 2017 Gear of the Year.
Last year, the DJI Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 Professional took top honors in our end of year buying guide. Read on to find out who it this year for beginners, consumers, prosumers, and professionals at a price tag less than $2,000.
Meyer Optik Goerlitz is resurrecting yet another classic lens. This time, the company has set its crowdfunding sights on the Primoplan 75mm F1.9, a lens originally manufactured in a run of just 2,000 back in the 1930s.
The folks at Kolari Vision—an infrared camera conversion company based in New Jersey—recently tore down a brand new Sony a7RIII, giving everybody a peek at the camera's much-improved weather sealing.
Resource Travel's Brandon Cunningham recently joined The Giving Lens for a 10-day adventure in India. A trip he won't soon forget, to a country that left him in "sensory and soul overload."
Meet the new Freefly Movi, a handheld gimbal stabilizer designed by cinema stabilization pros for use with the iPhone. Freefly is calling this little beast "the world's most portable, adaptable, and intuitive cinema robot."
Photography portfolio site PhotoShelter is adding their voice to the growing group of online companies that are speaking out in favor of net neutrality, and against the FCC's upcoming vote to kill it.
The Direct app would replace the current Inbox on the Instagram app, doing for Instagram what the Facebook Messenger app did for Facebook on mobile.
Qualcomm's latest high-end mobile chipset offers higher frame rates and a wider color gamut, among other important camera improvements you can expect to see in next year's flagship smartphones.
Photographer Josselin Cornou recently got trapped in a blizzard in the Snowy Mountains of Australia with his Fujifilm GFX 50S and new Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 lens. Find out how they held up to 110km/h winds and -15°C temperatures.