back to article DJI's Spark drones to be bricked by September 1 unless firmware updated

Hackers have boasted that DJI's latest Spark drone firmware update was bypassed in mere hours – including downtime to enjoy the recent solar eclipse. DJI has announced that its popular Spark consumer drones will be bricked by September 1 unless users download the latest firmware update. "If the firmware of either the aircraft …

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Black Helicopters

I can see the rivets

In the UK, non-commercial drone operators can only fly within line of sight at heights of up to 400 feet.

The RAF fly jets over my house lower than that and I'm nowhere near an airport. I think that they use it as a waypoint, luckily I don't (yet) own a drone.

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Re: I can see the rivets

"

The RAF fly jets over my house lower than that and I'm nowhere near an airport.

"

If they do you should complain. Unless there is a military necessity, the RAF must follow similar rules as any other aircraft and remain 500 feet away from any building. I suspect that you have underestimated either their height or their distance from your house. I was once reported for low flying and nearly hitting someone's roof. I was maintaining 800 feet AMSL, which in that area would not have been lower than 500 feet above the highest ground. It was however a particularly noisy aircraft, which is what probably gave the impression of being a lot closer than it was.

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Anonymous Coward

So they are bricking the devices?

I have to ask if that is legal?

No I don't own a drone and have every intention of never owing one.

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Re: So they are bricking the devices?

I'm guessing if you read the TOS, you're only leasing the drone from DJI. Or you're actually leasing the software, and you're free to do what you wish with the hardware (as useless as it is without the software).

Consumers are foolish if they think they can actually own something these days.

As seen on a Futurama episode once: "You can't OWN property man."

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Re: So they are bricking the devices?

If it really means "bricked", rather than "unable to fly until firmware is upgraded", it seems rather short notice and quite unfair on any owners who might be away from their drones during that period.

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Re: So they are bricking the devices?

"it seems rather short notice and quite unfair on any owners who might be away from their drones during that period."

Why? There's nothing to indicate you can't update the firmware at any time after the given deadline. It's just that you can't fly it until you do. You could stick your drone in a box until next year then get it out, update it, and fly no problems. As for it being short notice, unless you were planning to be away until 31st August 23:00 and were going to fly your drone at 00:00 1st September then you've got plenty of time to do a quick firmware update.

I don't see any problem with this at all frankly. It's no different than when Samsung said they'd brick/seriously hobble Note 7s that hadn't been returned, because they presented a genuine danger to customers and the public at large. Drones, when used incorrectly/illegally, pose an even greater danger.

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Re: So they are bricking the devices?

My elderly neighbour across the road who gets some really nice video of moving trains is refusing all help, from me or the local model shop and said if the thing stops working he will return it to where he bought it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So they are bricking the devices?

Don't know, but when aviation authorities mandate some changes because of safety reason, you have to apply them to fly.

IMHO it shouldn't be a single company to take care of that - but flying happens often in an highly regulated environment because of safety concerns, so users shouldn't think "I'll do anything I'm pleased with because social networks made my ego so big".

If so, you should be restricted to fly in your bedroom. There's an old saying along the lines "your rights end when other people's begin".

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Anonymous Coward

I'm usually the first to root a device..

But even I have 2nd thoughts when it comes to my DJI Mavic.. I looked into it once and decided the benefits simple dont justify the risk, there is absolutely no benefit to it.. and where restriction are in place they are for a reason.

If I root a phone, it poses no risk to anybody else.. a drone on the other hand not only poses a risk to other people, infrastructure and privacy.

But saying that, I don't support companies who behave like dictators and decide to pick battles with its users.. like I no longer buy Apples this will be the last DJI I own.

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Mushroom

WTF?

This is ridiculous. Remotely disabling a product you have bought? Blackmailing users into installing "upgrades"? They must have a very confident (or very incompetent) legal department.

Calling this a "top-down approach" is not even near the truth. That is blackmailing, and I'm pretty sure that this is also infringing on several hacking laws. After all they're messing with computer systems that they don't own.

Absurd to think that people are still buying from them.

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Re: WTF?

I'm assuming MS will note this.....

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Mushroom

Re: WTF?

Looks like Sonos already did:

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/22/sonos_forces_revised_privacy_terms/

"If you choose not to provide the functional data, you won't be able to receive software updates," the Sonos spokesperson explained. "It's not like if you don't accept it, we'd be shutting down your device or intentionally bricking it."

I just hope that all of these companies that do this kind of blackmail will crash hard, economically. Otherwise this will become the new normal.

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I bet 99.9% of drone users will just update anyway (myself included). It's hard to see who you are going to sue as they are a Chinese company and cleverly sell from China. But even if you could get a UK court to listen I'm sure DJI will just say it's for safety and to comply with local laws. Yes it sucks but nothing you can do about it.

Thinking about it you might be able to get an import ban but it would probably take years and cost a fortune and what drone owner is going to do that.

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It will be circumvented

It has a relatively small program memory so the firmware cannot be that difficult to reverse-engineer - at least to the point of removing blocks and time-bombs. Or if push comes to shove, creating completely home-brew firmware based on multi-wii, ardupilot or other open-source quadcopter firmware. If DJI behave in a way that is too inconvenient, someone will create and distribute firmware that removes *all* the blocks. Including the ones most people agree with.

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Re: It will be circumvented

I have an 8cm (prop tip to prop tip diagonal) _toy_ quad (obscure OEM, not DJI), and there is open source firmware I can flash right into it if I want - there's no way to ever return to stock because that can't be read out and nobody has it, but a $5 ST-clone dongle and five wires can push the open source version onto it, and it will carry on operating just as before except now I can mess with all the PID settings. It's all to small to matter of course, there's no "cloud connection" or any way to officially update anything - but if I can do this, it's almost impossible there not to be similar firmwares for things as popular as DJI...

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WTF?

Vote with your feet

" .. there are ongoing tensions between the company and its users, thanks to DJI's top-down approach to stopping users from flying drones in places they shouldn't."

And they can't just buy a drone from someone else ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Vote with your feet

Wish it was that easy, but unfortunately there are not many companies who make consumer drones to the caliber of DJI... I can take a weeks worth of clothes and Mavic (as it folds up) in hand luggage, makes it very easy for travelling.

Though Parrot have some interesting ones, and the Bebop 2 is quite enticing..

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It's a shame

The technology in DJI's drones is very impressive. I was considering the purchase of an Inspire for aerial photography, but wouldn't touch anything from DJI after this.

I have this strange, possibly old fashioned idea that if I pay money for something, it's mine. Disabling a product after purchase is on very shaky legal ground. I will have to ask my lawyer about this the next time I see him.

I'm sure here in the US this would be grounds for a class action lawsuit. Even if the EULA grants them the authority to do this, I don't think a court will side with them. It would be hard to get 12 regular people off of the street to agree that a corporation (especially a foreign one) can disable an expensive toy without refunding the purchase price.

I would love to see the FTC demand that DJI buy back every bricked drone at the retail price.

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Bodged workaround with Fly More Combo

It's not really addressing the problem, but you don't technically need the app to fly the Spark. Once registered and bound to a remote (I have the Fly More combo) you can fly the drone with no connection to the app and therefore no wifi and no update nonsense. Selfies, sport flying and videos work from the remote, but no FPV which I appreciate limits its usefulness; all depends what you want to do with it.

Before you downvote I'm not condoning DJI's update protocol, and I know 99% of Spark owners will not tolerate losing FPV; I'm just outlining a possibility.

Oh and as I understand it the drones won't be bricked after September 1st, they just won't take off until the firmware (for the drone and every battery) is updated.

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It's not that ridiculous...

I have a Spark myself & multiple owners over on the official forum have had drones drop out of the sky without warning. If the firmware update addresses that, why would you NOT make it compulsory?

More interesting is that they haven't actually come out & said they've fixed that. I suspect they're rather under-playing the 'battery firmware changes' rather than making themselves liable for damages...

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"If the firmware of either the aircraft or the battery is not updated..."

BATTERY firmware?!? I am not a DJI (or any other brand of) drone owner but apparently I missed something important...?

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Pirate

Phantom 2.... Not a problem...

Sure it's old. Sure I had to kit it up with parts from a variety of sources to enable FPV - GoPro, gimbal, display, transmitter, antennas, etc. Yeah, there is probably some firmware update for it. But it flies just fine right now without it, so I don't see the need to update it.

I have been watching the on-going debate and increasing regulations & limitations. I would be lying if I said I didn't anticipate something like this happening and that is why I was an early adopter. Great in its day, okay today, and dated tomorrow - but I sure as heck don't have some Chinese company dictating stuff to me either.

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To save lives

It looks like the author and previous commenters are unaware that ISIS are using DJI drones on a large scale for surveillance and dropping grenades on troops. Numerous soldiers have been killed.

The perspective that the buyer of hardware should be able to do whatever they like has some validity, but when you consider that the enemy in a war is using it against you, that changes things.

It can also be used for terrorist activities which seems to be a key reason for the firmware update enforcing no-fly zones with consequences if it is not applied.

It will be excellent if ISIS' drone fleet get bricked soon.

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Re: To save lives

> It will be excellent if ISIS' drone fleet get bricked soon.

Actually it may not be. Brick the COTS ones they're using now and they learn to build their own, using open source flight controllers and ESCs. They then have the knowledge to make something *way* more capable than DJI makes.

You want a beast that uses 8 motors (two in push-pull on each corner) and can lift a crate of beer? Have at it, the controller already supports it, the motors and ESCs are cheap.

In short: build yer own! It's more fun, and you end up with something better.

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Devil

Re: To save lives

Absolutely - it's unthinkable to have terrorists out there with brains we can't lobotomise at will with the press of a button from a remote cloud! All those terrorist-producing wombs must be declared illegal as soon as possible unless fitted with a pre-birth YippieKayYay cortical bomb / TruPatriot mind reader implanter!

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How does one brick a disconnected device? Give that a moment's thought....

If you don't download any updates to your device, then the manufacturer can't change its behavior in any way at all, including turning it into a brick... unless it was *already designed to brick* if you don't download software updates.

Kind of sneaky to do that, kind of dishonest not to mention it to the customers paying them for the gear, and downright slimy not to mention the fact when making an announcement of this sort.

Thank you for letting us know whose equipment never to buy.

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