Cloudy with a chance of drones: Power loss causing some DJI quadcopters to fall

DJI is investigating a serious issue with its Matrice 200 drone following reports of a “small number” of the machines dropping out of the sky after a sudden loss of power.

Launched in 2017, the Matrice 200 is a robust quadcopter and a popular choice for organizations conducting search and rescue missions, as well as industrial inspections and mapping operations. Police in the U.K., for example, have been making increasing use of the drone in their daily work, with its ability to use different types of cameras making it particularly useful for search and rescue missions, some of which have helped to save lives.

But the recently revealed issue with DJI’s quadcopter has been deemed so serious that it has prompted the U.K.’s aviation regulator to issue a safety notice advising pilots to stop using the drone, or to take extra care until a fix has been found.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) notice said: “A small number of incidents have been recently reported where the aircraft has suffered a complete loss of power during flight, despite indications that there was sufficient battery time still remaining. In each case, this resulted in the aircraft falling directly to the ground due to the immediate loss of lift with the remote pilot unable to control its subsequent flight path.”

Considering the heavier weight (8.4 pounds/3.8 kg) of the Matrice 200 compared to most consumer drones, the warning comes as no surprise. Fortunately, the CAA notes that it has yet to receive any reports of injuries to people, or damage to property, caused by a faulty Matrice 200.

While the CAA would prefer pilots to stop using the drone until the issue has been resolved, it said that the unique nature of operations carried out by the emergency services meant it was reluctant to ground the device. Instead, it’s asking pilots to be “reasonably satisfied that the flight can be safely made,” and requests that they reduce the scope of missions and avoid flying over people.

DJI told Digital Trends in an emailed statement that it’s “aware of a small number of reports involving drones in the Matrice 200 series that have lost power mid-flight.”

It said its engineers are “thoroughly reviewing each customer case and working to address this matter urgently,” adding that “flight safety and product reliability are top priorities.” It declined to say precisely how many cases have been reported.

In the meantime, the drone company is asking pilots to take a number of precautionary steps, including installing any battery firmware updates via its DJI Assistant 2 app.

The problem is reminiscent of the one that hit GoPro’s ill-fated Karma drone. In that case, the drone’s movement caused the drone’s battery to pop out of place, cutting power to its motors, though there’s no suggestion at this stage that DJI’s drone is experiencing the same fault.

DJI said its products are tested “for thousands of hours, and the overwhelming number of customers enjoy using our products with minimal disruption.”

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