BBC Radio 5 Live reported news of UK police grounding some of their drones because of a fault that means the devices can fall out of the sky. A “handful of drones” were affected by a glitch that cut their power and made them crash land, according to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The error occurred even when the drone’s batteries appeared to have charge remaining, claimed reports from the Telegraph.
The drone model, used by UK emergency services, is used in search and rescue operations and for crime prevention and investigation. The outage affected the M200 series of drones produced by Chinese manufacturer DJI.
Police in Norfolk, Devon, Cornwall and the West Midlands are among those deploying DJI drones to find missing persons and conduct investigations. DJI said in a statement that it was “thoroughly reviewing” reports of power issues with the products in question.
The fault was noticed by West Midlands Police, which told BBC News: “During a recent operation the drone experienced an in-flight issue and landed on the roof of a commercial business unit. The force immediately grounded the model and referred the matter directly to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).”
West Midlands Police said its sole DJI Matrice drone would not fly again unless the CAA and industry experts could prove it posed no further risk. Flying within 50m (164ft) of people, vessels, vehicles or structures which the pilot is not also in control of, has also been temporarily prohibited.
“There’s thousands of these specific models around the world being used by police and emergency services who favour its ability to operate in windy and rainy conditions,” Andrew McQuillan, from Crowded Space Drones, told 5 Live’s Phil Williams but he is backing CAA’s guidelines- even though it was impacting his business.
Derbyshire Police said: “This is for public safety. However, we have other drones that are not affected by the issue and these are still in use.” In a policy document available online, singling out one of the models as a key part of its fleet the force published a press release just five days ago stating it was “pleased to announce” that M200 series drones had been added to its fleet after a year of testing: “Where possible, the DJI Matrice M210 will be deployed as the primary drone due to the extra capabilities it provides.”
Customers have been advised by DJI to update the firmware on their aircraft and batteries. The Mavic 2 and the Matrice 200 are both designed to appeal to commercial clients experimenting with drones for tasks like surveying and site monitoring, said Tom Morrod, an analyst at IHS Markit. Problems with the Matrice 200 could cause concern in that sector, he pointed out. “It’s potentially going to slow down a lot of that experimentation, the opportunity to establish new business cases,” he told the BBC.