Firmware is the software at the heart of your drone. It controls everything from flight inputs to battery management and everything in between. So having up to date firmware is important if you are to operate your drone safely and reliably.
But checking for and applying firmware updates is not a priority for most operators, who have other things to think about. Notifying the relevant authorities about flight activity and creating reports for paying customers are far more pressing matters to most operators than applying software updates.
This often results in updates being postponed to a later date, but with some drones, this is a mistake because they won’t allow you to fly before the update has been applied. Some drone pilots often get annoyed by this failsafe mechanism, claiming that it prevents them from working efficiently and causes embarrassment in front of the customer.
But the reality is that firmware is so important to the safe operation of your drone that it would be negligent of a manufacturer to allow an old or outdated drone to keep flying. Updates often fix bugs in flight stabilisation algorithms and battery management which could easily cause your drone to fall out of the sky.
Some manufacturers also include updates to restricted flying areas in their firmware which can prevent you from flying too close to airports or other no-fly zones. So installing that update could prevent you from getting into trouble and receiving a large fine.
Firmware updates can prevent the loss of your drone
All computer controlled equipment requires an update at some point. Just think how many times you have to update your smartphone, for example. The difference is that when your smartphone reboots, it doesn’t fall out of the sky and risk injuring someone.
We could cite a number of examples where a firmware update has been used to fix a potentially disastrous fault. But the most recent was implemented by DJI, whose Spark drone began crashing midflight for no apparent reason. The problem was due to a faulty battery connection which came loose during flight, causing the drone to crash.
While the fault only affected a small number of drones, DJI had no way of knowing which drones were affected. Because safety was a concern, they immediately issued a firmware update which monitored the battery connection, returning the drone to base if the battery reported a fault: a simple, but potentially life-saving, fix.
Get into the habit of checking your drone for updates every day
So don’t think of firmware updates as an annoying inconvenience, they are there to help protect your drone and your reputation. Try to get into the habit of checking your drone for firmware updates before you go out on a job. This will not only help to keep your drone flying safely, but it will also prevent causing embarrassment in front of the customer.
Most drones notify you via the control unit when an update is available, but the method for updating varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. In most cases, you can obtain the latest firmware from the support pages on their website. One word of warning: when updating your device it is important that you select the correct model because installing the incorrect firmware can damage your drone.