DJI is far and away the world’s most popular brand of drone across the consumer and commercial sectors. Increasingly, its aircraft are also being used by militaries. The US Army, for example, has issued over 300 exemptions allowing its troops to fly DJI drones on various missions. But two weeks ago, the Army put a temporary halt on the use of any DJI equipment, citing concerns over potential cyber vulnerabilities.
That news sparked a broader conversation about the use of Chinese-made hardware for sensitive military, government, and commercial tasks. Today, DJI announced that it will be releasing a software update in the next few weeks with something called “local data mode.” Pilots can turn this on to prevent the transfer of all data to and from the drone. They will still be able to get a live video feed back to their mobile device and use various autonomous features. Live-streaming to services like Facebook and YouTube, of course, will no longer be an option.
Users could have already achieved something like this by turning their mobile devices to airplane mode while operating a DJI drone. But if you’re using your primary device for piloting, you may not want to miss out on critical emails or messages during flight.
DJI pointed out that a lot of benign but important information is sent to and from the device while it’s connected to the internet. “DJI’s flight control apps routinely communicate over the internet to ensure a drone has the most relevant local maps and geofencing data, latest app versions, correct radio frequency and power requirements, and other information that enhances flight safety and functionality,” the company says.
If you want to fly safely in local mode, in other words, you would be well served to connect on a regular basis to update this kind of info and software. DJI also put some caveats on access to this new feature. “The local data mode feature may not be available in locations where an internet connection is required or highly advisable due to local regulations or requirements.”
“Local data mode will allow customers to get the most out of their DJI flight control apps while providing added assurance that critical data is not inadvertently transmitted over the internet,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president of policy and legal affairs. “DJI is committed to protecting the privacy of its customers’ photos, videos and flight logs. Local data mode will provide added assurances for customers with heightened data security needs.”