Let us diagnose. Let us repair. Let Us Drone. Flying your Phantom 4 Pro or Spark is a blast…until you start ignoring the error or warning messages, then the platonic fun turns into a rush of adrenaline fueled by rebellion because you're choosing to fly a drone that could drop from the sky at any moment.
Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic and over the top, but still, I hope that you don't ignore warning messages, especially ESC warnings. Let's go ahead and talk about DJI drone ESC's, how they work, why they are so important, and some of the common problems and solutions we have with the ESC's.
What is the ESC?
ESC stands for Electronic Speed Controller. Multi-rotor aircraft rely on speed changes of the motors for directional movements. The ESC's are responsible for telling the motors to speed up or slow down depending on the commands given by the pilot.
Each of the four drone motors has an ESC assigned to it. When a pilot provides a stick adjustment, the command is received by the flight controller onboard the drone, which transmits the information to the electronic speed controllers which then tells the motors to speed up or slow down.
For example, if the pilot increases the height of the drone by pressing up on the left stick, more voltage is evenly sent through each of the four ESC's which in turn speeds up the motors, increasing the height of the drone.
Another example is if the pilot presses the right stick up the nose of the drone drops down and the drone proceeds to move forward. This is because more voltage was passed through the two rear ESC's which sped them up.
What causes ESC errors?
When you receive a ESC status error in the DJI GO 4 app it can be difficult to ascertain why it is present. To better know how to fix the problem, we need to figure out if it was a hardware or software issue that caused it in the first place.
If you recently had a crash then there is a good chance that this is the cause of the ESC status error. You may not think that the crash you had three weeks ago was the reason for the ESC status error that just appeared on the app, but you may be wrong.
Problems after a crash don't always immediately present themselves. It may take time for that wiring that was jarred loose during the crash to finally tear, or for the motor to be affected by that small piece of broken off plastic that has been rattling around.
A hard landing will be enough to sometimes jar things loose. People have often also experienced ESC errors after replacing or repairing damaged parts on their DJI drones themselves. Before ever attempting to repair or replace a damaged part on your DJI drone it is very important to first check your warranty status as taking apart your drone will void the warranty. I will talk more about the limited warranty and Care Refresh below.
It seems like there is always some kind of update available. If it's not a Precise Fly Safe Database Update, then it's a firmware update for the AC or RC, or it's an app update.
It is not unheard of for people to receive an ESC status error after updating their drone's firmware. If you received an ESC status error after updating your firmware, try refreshing your firmware. If refreshing the firmware, try rolling it back to the previous version.
Alternatively, if there is an update available and you currently have the ESC status error message, try updating the firmware.
There have been reports of people receiving ESC status errors with their brand new DJI drone right out of the box. This may be due to a software issue or it could be a hardware problem from poor handling while in transit.
How to fix the ESC status error
Often times you will get a “cannot takeoff” message in the status bar at the top of the screen. Tapping on that will bring up the aircraft status menu where you can view the ESC status.
Click on “ESC status” to bring up the error message. This will usually tell you which motor(s) has the ESC problem, and the message may give you guidance on what to do next. Usually, the message tells you something vague like “Restart the aircraft. If problems persist contact DJI support”.
If after restarting the drone the error message persists, try updating the firmware on your drone. If a firmware update is not available then just refresh the current firmware version. Updating or refreshing the firmware will usually eradicate the ESC status error if it's a software issue, but hardware damage will not simply mend itself with a firmware update.
You may have luck getting rid of the ESC error by performing a firmware update, but when you place a new battery in the drone the error may come back. This is because the firmware on the new battery needs to also be flashed with the new firmware. There is no procedure to solely update the battery firmware so go ahead an perform the aircraft firmware update once more.
If the ESC board is damaged, there really isn't a way of going around it…you'll need a new one. Although I have yet to complete an ESC repair or replacement myself, I have seen videos and the soldering alone is enough to scare away most people.
I repaired about 1,000 iPhones and iPads during my time as a repair technician, and although I wouldn't shy away from the chance to replace an ESC board, I certainly wouldn't take the job lightly due to its complexity.
Unless you have soldering experience and the required tools for the job, I'd strongly suggest sending your drone in to DJI for the ESC repair.
Is your drone under warranty?
Before you think about attempting to take apart your expensive drone to diagnose what is causing the ESC status error, you should check your warranty status. Taking apart the drone will void the limited warranty that comes with the drone.
Every DJI product comes with a limited warranty that essentially covers you against manufacturer defects, and components of the drone are warrantied for different lengths of periods. Read more about how to find out if your drone is covered by the limited in a post I wrote here.
If the ESC status error is caused by a software issue that isn't rectified by a firmware update, I would think that DJI would replace your drone under the limited warranty program. If, on the other hand, you crash your drone into a tree and physical damage is what caused the error, your drone will not be covered under the limited warranty.
Care Refresh is an extended warranty available for purchase that covers pilots against user inflicted damage. If you have Care Refresh, you may as well send the drone to DJI and have them repair it since this is the type of thing you likely purchased the extended warranty in the first place for anyway.
Related post: DJI Care Refresh: The Ultimate Guide – DJI's Care Refresh is a comprehensive warranty. If you chose to purchase Care Refresh when you buy a new drone, DJI will replace it with a new or like-new one up to two times in the event of your drone getting damaged.
To learn more about what DJI has to say about their ESC's, check out this article written by DJI that is helpful and informative.
Someone spent a serious amount of time reverse engineering a DJI ESC and proceeded to make a “Handyman's Guide to the ESC”, which he posted in a forum. The guide is incredibly detailed! Here is the link to that forum.
Electronic Speed Controller.
The ESC controls the speed of the motors which directly alters the in-flight aircraft directional changes.
Hardware can be damaged during a hard landing or crash, or software glitches may be the reason for the errors.
Sometimes a simple restart of the aircraft will clear the errors, and other times a firmware update/refresh will do the trick. If the ESC board is damaged, you will need to send your drone into a repair center, unless you have experience soldering and repairing electronics.
In the DJI Go 4 app tap on the aircraft status bar, and scroll down until you see “ESC status”. Tap on that to get a description of the error and which motor has it.
I have not yet had the opportunity to repair or replace a motor or ESC board on a drone before, but I am tempted. When I look at instructional videos and/or guides out there on how to repair components on DJI drones I am a bit hesitant to follow them. I am by no means bashing on anyone who has put content out there in an effort to show the rest of us how to repair our drones, but it takes a whole lot of time and experience to produce quality guides on this type of thing. Not to mention the financial side of having a camera that shows the micro detail necessary to make a helpful guide.
I'm thinking about producing clear and concise instructional videos on how to perform some of the more common drone repairs. Would this be something that you guys would find helpful or would I be better off investing my time into something else? Thanks in advance for the feedback!