Drones are controversial on their own without adding the prospect of international espionage to the discussion. However, this is exactly what the discussion about popular DJI drone software is all about. The software has been linked to Chinese spying efforts - more than enough of an excuse to make someone switch companies.
Is China the Downfall of DJI?
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), for one, is following the advice of a federal agency that has found ties from DJI to the Chinese government. The original report came from a New York Times expose that accused the largest drone manufacturer in the world of working for the Chinese. Apparently, DJI software may be taking random pictures to send information about infrastructure in the United States to China. The SFPUC is currently using drones to inspect wildlife and construction sites.
The SFPUC has not fully given up its own use of drones or DJI software, although it is conducting a full investigation. DJI does have cloud servers that are owned by the Chinese, so the connection is definitely plausible.
Why DJI May Still Be Number One
DJI is not so easy to get rid of, even with the accusation of Chinese collusion over its head. There is a reason that DJI is the number one drone manufacturer in the world - its line of drones fit various needs and price points. Everyone may have differences in opinion on the best software, but most experts agree that the DJI brand is highly intuitive, streamlined and powerful.
DJI software is known for having precise coding that leaves very little technical debt, meaning that drone controls are tighter. Controls are intuitive. From the Mavic Pro White to the Phantom 4 to the Inspire 2, you get what you pay for in a good way with the DJI brand. The software is also consistently updated via the DJI website, and reconfigurations are usually not too much of a hassle.
It could be said that the Chinese chose DJI for its nefarious purposes because DJI software allows pilots to transmit the best geospatial information of any software package, bar none.
Ardupilot - The New Number One?
Of course, the popular Ardupilot drone software might cause some drone pilots to think twice about the statement immediately above. One of the most important aspects of Ardupilot - the characteristic that is driving more and more people to it - is its open source platform. It has already scaled enough to protect casual users, and bugs get fixed incredibly fast. Most importantly, the platform is transparent. Ardupilot functionality is also quite expansive. The software is currently used to control drones of all types - multicopters, RC cars and fixed wing planes.
The transparency of the open source platform actually makes Ardupilot safer than closed circuit software such as DJI. Open source programmers are much more protective over their creations - if there were any espionage from a foreign source, it would be weeded out very quickly. Every change is transparent, meaning that malware could be traced back to its source. Even if the Chinese were to break into the fold, the investigation would be much shorter.
Open source software also has the potential to improve more quickly than closed circuit software. Any drone pilot making a switch from DJI to Ardupilot would find the investment providing more dividends over time.
Needless to say, regardless of news reports, everyone is free to choose his or her own drone software until the law says otherwise. However, if the rumors about DJI are just a bit too much for your patriotism to take, you have a viable and quite potent option in Ardupilot. Open source no longer means a higher learning curve - in the modern droning landscape, you may actually get more bang for your buck without the need for federal oversight.