Some DJI drone owners, angered by the company’s self-imposed “no-fly” safety features, are cheering a new set of hardware and software mods designed by a Russian company that effectively “jail breaks” DJI drones.
DJI created the No Fly Zone (NFZ) GEO feature to curtail “inadvertent operation in locations that could raise safety or security concerns, such as near airports.”
“In certain locations, the device will automatically be prevented from takeoff, or if already in flight towards the location, will pause at the boundary and not enter,” the company instructs. Pilots can request exemptions from DJI but critics claim the process can be time-consuming.
For around $350, Coptersafe mods can override NFZ, allowing DJI drones to fly higher than 500 meters and to enter company-defined no-fly zones via software updates or physical circuits.
“Many DJI users face problems with geofencing. Even if you have all the documents from authorities, it takes too long to get approval from DJI,” a Coptersafe spokesperson (who asked not to be named) told DRONELIFE. “In many countries, DJI limitations are too tight. Local laws allow much more freedom and flexibility.”
Proponents of DJI’s NFZ functionality point out that the company’s recent addition of locations in Iraq and Syria to its list could stop ISIS from piloting explosive-laden drones packed into crowds. Jail-breaking NFZ safety features would allow drones to ignore such restrictions.
Coptersafe counters that the same NFZ restraints that could stop terrorists may also stop emergency responders. “We have a lot of request from government organizations: firefighters, emergency services and police,” the unnamed Coptersafe spokesperson said.
“All need to fly in NFZ areas and it is also [a] question of safety.” However, Coptersafe mods could permit drones to operate in absolute no fly zones, “areas that even opting out of DJI’s GEO geofencing software would restrict—like directly over a runway,” as explained in Motherboard.
“Safety is DJI’s top priority, which is why we first introduced geofencing technology three years ago and have been steadily refining the industry’s best technology to enhance aviation safety,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs in a DRONELIFE report last year.
“Drone pilots want to fly safely, and our GEO system helps DJI customers fly responsibly while also enabling the full capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft.”