Why I Struggle With DJI

Testing the Octo with a GoPro before putting larger cameras on board.

Testing the Octo with a GoPro before putting larger cameras on board.

I use DJI products.  About 7 or 8 years ago, they saw the future and jumped.  Now they’re the Coca-cola of the consumer drone world.  Congrats.  So why am I hating on DJI?

It all started with an Octo.  This particular octocopter was a custom-build.  Of course 3-4 years and further back, everything big like that was a custom build.  For the custom builders, the best “brain” for running these builds, was the wookong, made by DJI.  This was the technology that told the drone what to do.  You inputted a command in the controller, it was received by the wookong and orders went out from it to the motors.

One beautiful twilight evening at a park in North Carolina, I was flying this octo with a $4,000 camera/lens on it.  I had just finished the run and was bringing it back to me in the parking lot.  About 90 feet up and 50 feet away from me, it suddenly flipped over, and flew into the pavement.  I don’t mean fell into the pavement.  The motors were accelerating.  This was the worst drone crash I’ve ever seen.  The only fortunate thing was that because of the flip, the expensive camera was on top, instead of on bottom.  It was the only thing to survive (though the lens was shattered).

The builder contacted DJI for me, and now, a year and a half later, I still have absolutely nothing.  I was promised a replacement wookong, so at least I could try and sell that to get a little of my investment back.  But the expensive gimbal?  Out of luck.  The FPV system?  Too bad.  The frame?  It stays a twisted pile of rubbish. The two $180/each batteries were toast as well.

I understand that 95% of the crashes are user driven.  This clearly wasn’t part of that 95%.  But that was just one thing.  And it’s not like the whole unit was DJI.  What if a component had interfered with the compass?  Who knows, so I can give a little break to DJI.

DJI Phantom 2

Flying the DJI Phantom 2.

So I have had several Phantom 2’s.  I’ve heard horror stories of fly-aways and such.  Here’s my experience (not urban legend).  I have many, many hours of flying.  For the most part, the DJI Phantom 2 has flow wonderfully.  On two different occasions, I have had flyways.  One time I was able to shut down and restart the controller and gain control back.  The other I didn’t and it crashed hard enough that that drone never flew again.  In that case, I had just taken off with new battery, when it just flew off to the right, gaining a little altitude until it crashed on a bridge.

The other problems I’ve had with the Phantom 2 have been unexplained behaviors.  Usually on a low battery, it starts with a slow blinking red light, then starts to blink faster.  Push it far enough and it will do an emergency descent.  All good.  I’ve had three occasions where the Phantom 2 just performed an emergency descent as soon as the battery blinked red for the first time.  Not good.  I did mark the battery the second time and the third time was same battery.  I pulled that one off the line, and it hasn’t happened since.

The last incident was the most troubling.  I was flying, three out of four bars on the battery, 70 feet up, when suddenly it fell to the ground, totaling the phantom and the gimbal.  On play back of the GoPro, it’s clear what happened– the engines totally stopped.  Even when problems occur, the engines will still spin.  This was a total engine fail.

I mention all this because DJI needs more stability in their computer-side of the drone activity.  People can get hurt if you’re flying and you get the drone equivalent of the microsoft blue screen of death.  I just purchased a R3D Solo and I’m hoping that the technology side is more dependable.

Maybe I’m totally off.  Maybe the vast majority have never had a hint of trouble from their DJI product.  One last thought I’ll leave with– WHy did DJI and GoPro have to fight?  Phantom 1 used the slot in the back of the GoPro for easy connection.  With Phantom 2, DJI refused to pay fee, so connecting is actually harder, and now with Phantom 3, you have to use their camera.  Bummer.