Safe drone pilots hack their drones to remove potential safety hazards caused by erroneous data.
A soft cool breeze passes on a warm summer afternoon in southern Colorado. Our flight crew was in the middle of a drone job. The drone operation was focused on creating a 3d Model of an event center to create a new virtual storefront that included all the vendors.
About halfway through the first flight, the DJI Go 4 app began an auto-landing procedure. The app stated I was flying in a TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) and began an auto-landing procedure. Luckily there was no one else around at the time and I landed in some tall grass.
There was no way to control the aircraft other than lateral motions.
After re-confirming the airspace I was flying in, the noted TFR was about 45 miles away to my east. It was bad data. The aircraft literally auto-landed because of faulty GPS data. While the TFR was valid due to a nearby wildfire, we were not flying anywhere near it.
Think about it, you could be flying an event, in tight airspace and have an accident... simply due to a GPS error. This GPS error tells the flight controller you're in controlled airspace without permission and you must land. Frantic and unable to fly home in time... you now have a career threatening error due to a faulty sensor. This is one particular example of a potential safety hazard from a common consumer drone.
Now it may be easy to understand why safe drone pilots may want to hack their drone, but how?
This is a great opportunity to discuss this practical real-life drone operating error and how it could get much worse. This example is one of many reasons its impossible to advocate for any network (internet based protocol) based Remote ID.
Can you imagine an environment where a cellular signal is communicating with your drone and having any control of motors, landing or anything else? The DJI GO 4 app had barely any cellular data paired with poor GPS data and sent me headed for the ground. How would additional internet based control make this situation any better?
This will cause more problems than it will solve. We will see a huge influx of crashes, and also a climax of understanding as the world begins to witness the FAA's understanding of practical drone flight operations. As drone operators have faced GPS errors, controlled airspace errors and even mis-timed data...many drone pilots start to ask, how can we hack our drones to remove this potential safety hazard?
A few years ago Drone U posted a video on how to hack your Mavic Pro to acquire the Attitude Flight Mode. This flight mode offers numerous benefits to sophisticated drone operations that remove potential safety hazards, like inhibiting a fly-away.
In addition, the flight mode offers experienced drone pilots many tools to increase the fluidity of their videography. Later on, we launched the how to hack your Mavic 2 Pro video because DJI didn't provide pilots with this necessary feature.
Later on, DJI added attitude mode to the enterprise version of the Mavic as so many pilots requested it. Albiet, DJI was also offering training to drone pilots that included exercises around attitude mode. At the time, the primary drone used to train, the M2E, couldn't fly in attitude mode.
Many people would argue that a button sequence in a software isn't really a "hack," albeit it made my Mavic 2 Pro a lot more valuable. Now, this hack did not remove the DJI Geo zone or the DJI GO 4 app's autonomous data searches for no-fly zones.
Look the attitude mode hack is really awesome for videography, and truly allows the pilot to be in control of the aircraft. But it does not remove the random erroneous notifications that the drone is flying where it shouldn't be...in error. As a certified Part 107 Pilot, I take pride in knowing how to access airspace and read sectionals or airspace maps.
New applications, like UA Sidekick, have made it even easier for pilots to see airspace maps and live TFRs. As a drone pilot, we are ultimately responsible. Thus it is critical to know where we are flying and the proper protocols to gain access to controlled airspace. The old way of hacking your drone does offer methods of unlocking various parameters on the drone. But without a road map of the right parameters, you could mess up something serious with your drone.
A total unlock through a piece of software seems to offer drone pilots the easiest way to fully unlock the drone.
There are currently two companies that offer a very easy way to modify your DJI aircraft to remove the ability for the drone to override your flight. Removes:
Understand that if you modify your aircraft, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE TO CHECK WHERE YOU ARE FLYING AND CHECK FOR TFR'S! You can actually get in serious Federal trouble by flying inside of a TFR or in controlled airspace.
By executing the hack on your aircraft, you actually will remove potential safety hazards caused by erroneous data. In addition, it will make illegal flight more convenient.
We urge you to use this information safely and create habits that force you to check airspace and TFR's before each and every takeoff. This hack also inhibits the drone from communicating with the internet, which solves all the security worries as well.
Here are the two companies that provide an easy-to-use interface to hack your drone and remove flight mode restrictions and more.
Before the argument arises over the ethical battle of unlocking your drone, remember there are more drone manufacturers who DO NOT include geo-fencing, then do.
Hacking your drone will inhibit flight errors caused by bad data, but it will also open liabilities up to the pilot if not used carefully. Use the information responsibly!
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