Feeling frustrated with the drone industry

When I bought my DJI Air 2, DJI publicly said they anticipated offering firmware updates to support the future Remote ID requirements.

UPDATE: On July 1, 2023, DJI said they will update the firmware in the Air 2. What I read said this should be expected by Sep 30, 2023 – although another person told me, he understood the update might come later. Regardless, this is great news – DJI will update the Air 2 at some point.

But they have only updated the drones that are still sold. The Air 2 was replaced by the Air 2S shortly after I bought my Air 2 – DJI updated the 2S firmware but others say DJI support told them they will not be updating the Air 2 firmware to support Remote ID.

A 3rd party Remote ID module currently costs over $200. I doubt we will see large price cuts as there will be initial high demand for Remote ID modules. By 2024, the prices should be coming down.

I also have a Hubsan Zino Mini SE. In April of 2020, Hubsan announced all U.S. sales would transition to EXO Drones, basically a retail startup based in Utah – and Hubsan would discontinue all sales of Hubsan branded products in the U.S.

In August, EXO was itself purchased by another company.

EXO seems to relabel Hubsan drones as EXO drones at higher prices. Exact same product only priced hundreds of dollars more. If you visit the Hubsan web site from the U.S., every product says it is not available. If you want a Hubsan product, you have to purchase the higher priced re-labeled EXO drone.

Meawnhile, support for Hubsan products in the U.S. vanished. I have not seen a drone firmware update since late 2022. Yet from the drone forums, owners of the same drone, but in other countries, have continued to receive software updates – as recently as June of 2023.

From Bing Chat bot: “According to my search results, Hubsan has stopped providing firmware updates for its drones to US customers1. Unfortunately, I could not find more information on why this decision was made or if it is a temporary or permanent change.”

Hubsan had a reputation for fixing things in their updates, while simultaneously breaking something new. Consequently, you needed to check user reports before installing an update – and wait for the next update to fix what they just broke!

But now we have drones that are stuck in time.

Hubsan has had a long reputation of poor customer service, apparently. Hiding it behind an EXO brand veneer does not seem to have solved their problems. Today, their website shows most drones and parts “out of stock”. Amazing.

Hubsan and EXO abandoned their U.S. customers. Online forum comments suggest EXO misrepresents what they do, claiming to be designing drones that are better than DJI – but is actually just a sales rep for Hubsan – at higher prices. They also claim to offer a free Part 107 licensing course if you buy an EXO drone – but many report it’s free, only if you sign up for an annual EXO subscription service. You don’t find that out until the end of the purchase process.

There are not many alternatives to DJI drones – Skydio is very expensive. Perhaps Autel is fine.

For now, I will probably stick with DJI as the only viable option. Will definitely not consider Hubsan/EXO drones in the future – and I’ve had other lesser known brands that had poor quality and short product life.

I also had some older Yuneec drones. The little Yuneec Breeze was fun to fly – but was plagued by software problems. Each time I changed the battery, I had to do a full system reset, and use my computer to re-enter configuration info. Eventually, the Breeze had a “fly away”. It was hovering just fine over my driveway and I slowly commanded it to fly – but instead it shot up and then reversed 180 degrees and flew at full speed into my garage roof. The log file indicated the software had stored an incorrect starting lat/long – and it appeared it had decided to reposition itself, without warning. Anyway, the Breeze died from that impact. There were many online reports from other users who also experienced the “fly away” problem.

I also have a Yuneec Q500, bought used. Unfortunately, even with new batteries, flight time is just 8-10 minutes. It too had a drift off course scenario. I was flying in my yard (I have a large lot) and things were going fine until it began to drift (slowly) towards my house and would not respond to any directional controls – except up and down. I proceeded to drop it down where it drifted slowly into a brick wall, breaking the replaceable props. There is a possibility that it had encountered Wi-Fi interference. The Q500 still flies but I will now only fly it in a remote location.

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