Why I returned my DJI Spark #quadcopter #drones #quadcopters #geofencing

Ultimately, the geofencing feature was an impossible hassle to deal with – for flying the unit indoors – at my house. But before then, the set up process proved to be unnecessarily difficult.

I bought a DJI Spark, Spark Remote Controller (RC), extra battery and prop guards.

First thing I noticed was their instruction booklet is printed in about 4 point type font, making it extremely difficult to read. Once upon a time I had 15:20 vision (better than normal) but once we pass through our 40s, our near vision ability declines. That’s why reading glasses were invented. Even with prescription reading glasses I had a very hard time reading the instruction booklets. Yes, they can be downloaded as PDF and then zoomed in much larger – but I wasn’t planning to typically have a notebook computer or tablet with me out in the field.

Second, they want you to sync up with the Spark or the Spark RC using QR codes on the box or the device. The QR code is printed in about a 1/2 by 1/2″ inch area – so small that many phones cannot read the QR code.  On one of the units, the QR code was read successfully but on the other, it always gave an error indicating the code could not be read. There’s a manual work around, which I did, but that led on to the next set of problems.

Third, the instructions that you cannot read are incorrect. To manually set up the device, you need to link up to the WiFi SSID on the Spark, say the instructions. But not really, they were joking! If you have both the Spark and the Spark RC, you first link the Spark RC to the Spark  and then you link via WiFi to the Spark RC’s Wifi SSID (not the Spark). They don’t mention this in the unreadable manual; you have to search online forums to learn about this.

Fourth, I could connect to either device with my smart phone – but, you need to do basic set up using the DJI Go smart phone app. While I could set up the WiFi link manually (due to the QR codes not working), and was properly connected to the devices (with or without the RC), the DJI app on my phone was never able to communicate with the Spark or RC. It always displayed the “Enter Device” option, not the Go Fly option. Going through the manual connection (a bunch of lame tutorial screens with steps like “insert battery”), the last option to complete the connection was always greyed out and inaccessible. After an evening wasted on this, the next day I used my Android tablet and it linked up right away.

Fifth, you will discover that you need to install some software updates, via the app. However, with your device connected to the Spark (it acts like an access point), you do not have Internet access. Presumably (this is never explained as best I could tell), you need to connect to the Spark, get the Go app running, get the software update required message, then – with the app still running – go into Android and re-connect WiFi to an Internet connection – and download the update – and then go back into Android and re-connect WiFi to the Spark. I think. I never did get this update working through the Go app.

Instead, I went to the DJI web site and downloaded the DJI Assistant 2 desktop PC application, installed that on my computer. Then I connected the Spark to my computer using an USB cable and used the Assistant 2 application to download and install the updates. I have no idea if this is described in the manual.

Sixth, the next problem I ran into is that I live in an “authorization” required to fly zone (I knew this, of course). DJI implements “geofencing”. Geofencing uses GPS to find out if you are too close to an airport or certain other restricted zones. If too close, then you cannot operated the DJI Spark. In some cases, as in my case, you can log into the DJI web site and fill in an online request for an “authorization certificate”. This certificate authorizes you to override the geofence restriction for 72 hours (only).

To enable the geofence override, you need to install the authorization certificate in the DJI Go app. But to do that you must (a) connect to the Internet and login to your DJI account, (b) then disconnect that WiFi link and re-connect to the Spark RC,  (C) go into the DJI Go app and download the certificate – except you are not now connected to the Internet (remember I only had my Wifi only Android tablet working).

It was not clear how to proceed to get the certificate in to the DJI Go app since I did not have Internet access while connected to the Spark RC. At this point I decided that DJI’s products are not worth the hassles I was experiencing and I gave up and returned the DJI Spark. Even if I got this working – if there was a work around – I would have had to do this every time I wanted to fly the drone INSIDE MY  HOUSE.

I wanted to initially test the drone inside my house for convenience. If I had problems – and I had, in fact, problems at every step of the setup and configuration – I was able to look online at quadcopter forums for suggestions and ideas. If I took the DJI Spark out to the remote control model airfield, I would not have Internet access out there – and its a long drive out to the airfield and back.

While the DJI Spark, like many newer drones, has numerous automated flying capabilities, ultimately my interest is in manual flying as is done with traditional radio control aircraft.

Consequently, I am now building my own quadcopter that flies with a traditional RC aircraft remote control unit, and not tons of software apps, smart phones or tablets.

Since I never got to the point that I could fly the DJI Spark off the floor in my house, I cannot realistically comment on whether the DJI Spark is any good or not.

I have watched many Youtube videos where many people have successfully flown (and occasionally lost control and crashed) their DJI Spark, generally using automated or semi-automated flight controls. The video quality of the images shown looks really good.

Unfortunately, I live in the wrong place to fly DJI drones due to their geofencing and cumbersome way of overriding those restrictions even for indoor flight. That makes the product unacceptable for my purposes. I believe that DJI is not the right product for those who live within 5 miles of any airport or other restricted areas.

Some day we will move to a better location away from flight restrictions. That could be later this year or even next year (we don’t yet know where we would move to). May be I’ll re-investigate commercial drones at that time, but until then, I’ll be building and flying my own quadcopter.

I should have gotten in to quadcopters a long time ago. I attended a local quadcopter meetup group in late 2013. Unfortunately, my life at the time was was mostly in chaos and drones just kept getting postponed. I do have a concern that by the time I finally get airborne there will be numerous restrictions and perhaps licenses required too. Hope not.

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