DJI just wants you to fly your drones smart and safe.
The company just instituted a software update that will require every DJI drone owner — old and new — to register and/or sign and activate their DJI account. If they don’t, but still update to the latest DJI drone firmware, the drone’s flight will be severely limited.
According to the DJI message sent out to customers this week entitled, DJI Updates Process For Activating Software And Firmware Updates:
If this activation process is not performed, the aircraft will not have access to the correct geospatial information and flight functions for that region, and its operations will be restricted if you update the upcoming firmware: Live camera streaming will be disabled, and flight will be limited to a 50-meter (164-foot) radius up to 30 meters (98 feet) high.
However, what this process does not require is that DJI drone fliers register with their local aviation authorities. That is, DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg told me via email, “between you and your conscience.”
The fact that the FAA’s hobbyist drone registration process was stuck down this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is purely coincidence.
The real impetus for the change is DJI’s newest drone, the super-small, gesture-based, $499 Spark, which the company unveiled on Wednesday.
“We’re putting out a new version of DJI Go 4 to the whole world, a lot of people are going to be downloading it for the first time… if we want everyone to log in again, now is the time,” wrote DJI’s Lisberg.
The DJI Go app (version 4 arrives with a slew of new features for the Spark drone) is on iOS and Android, and it lets drone owners user their phones to remote-control (RC) and fly the drones. That way, the user can fly them without the physical RC devices included with the drones.
For those who’ve already registered with DJI, they should be entering the same email and password they used when first registered with the company, which is not seeking to collect new info.
The purpose of the activation and updates, DJI contends, is to ensure that every drone flier has the most up-to-date geospatial information and flight restrictions as prescribed by each drone flier’s location.
The firmware updates and registration activation will not change geofencing boundaries or flight altitude limits. Unless, of course, you don’t activate (and firmware update), then they’ll change quite a bit.
This is the first time DJI has ever imposed flight restrictions for not registering or activating existing registrations.
Forcing drone owners, really any consumer electronics owners, to register lest they lose device functionality, is a new wrinkle in the manufacturer-consumer relationship. Most appliances (think air conditioners) work just fine without registration. Certainly connected devices, like an iPhone, work much better with an Apple account, but you could get away without one and still use it as a phone. DJI has good reason to do this (safe and legal flight), but limiting flight functionality may rankle some as a paternalistic move.
Most DJI customers, like myself, do register when they start flying with the company, but, like me, promptly forget they ever did. Lisberg thinks the notice they sent out may have alarmed some people, because most forgot about registration. Surely, some were just upset that DJI is making the optional obligatory.
There are ways, which DJI does not recommend, to fly their drones without registering — like if you never updated the flight-control software or firmware. Expert drone technicians do it all the time, However, the new class of less-experienced drone fliers likely coming on board with the new DJI Spark, will probably appreciate the drone knowing better than they do where it can and can’t fly.