In the next upcoming months, we’re going to be seeing many new things in relation to Remote ID. One of those is going to be RID modules.
There are only a few now, but that will soon change.
Recently we looked at a Commercial Module. That module was brought to us by a company called Dronetag.
That was a commercial RID module, offering features that most users just don’t need and wouldn’t be able to justify the cost.
That leaves us asking, what about more economical hobbyist types of units?
Today, we’re going to look at a Hobbyist RID module.
It lacks the bells and whistles that the commercial module offers, of course, as this is the type of module most will be looking for – a lower-cost variant that brings them into compliance.
This led me to a company called Bluemark Innovations and their Drone Beacon db120.
Now, I didn’t really know what to expect as I found this unit by its listing at the Find your aircraft Declaration of Compliance (faa.gov).
Currently, there are a total of five companies listed with their Declaration of Compliance.
As this was the third of these modules I have purchased, I leaned toward the cheapest one I could find. That turned out to be BlueMark and their DroneBeacon DB120.
This Remote ID module is just the basic broadcast RID and is priced at $130.00 US dollars, one of the leading reasons for going with BlueMark over the Zephyr Systems Version.
In fact, they are identical. Wait, what!?
Yes, the RID module from both of these companies is identical to one another.
Their pricing however is not, and this is one of those things we’re going to see. Unscrupulous companies that are attempting to take advantage of us Drone Pilots.
The very same Module from Zephyr Systems costs $315. Both companies have a Declaration of compliance for this module.
So naturally, I went with the less expensive of the two. Don’t worry; we’ll get into all of it. Let’s go!
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Bluemark: The Company
In order to make sense of their product and how two companies could have the same exact item as their own product line took a bit of digging.
First, let’s talk about Bluemark as a company though. It’s a small business, with less than 5 employees.
According to Crunchbase, they have been in operation since 2012 and mainly appear to provide consultation services for drone management and event promotion.
Their original focus was on detecting and locating smartphones and was founded originally in 2009 by Roel Schiphorst. We have a small company that is trying to expand, there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, a small company can easily be taken in by a larger more unscrupulous company that is only focused on profit.
We see this sort of thing all the time where three or four companies all produce the same product and then sell it to someone else, and it’s rebranded as their own, with the prices varying quite a bit from one to another.
This appears to be what we’re looking at for these RID modules in particular.
After digging a bit deeper, I was able to find our DroneBeacon DB120 listed on Alibaba. So, we have two companies that have outsourced their product from the same local source.
This is the only way to explain the two having the same item available even if the names have changed.
This would also explain why I wasn’t able to purchase this unit directly but had to go through a 3rd-party vendor website which is attached to the Bluemark site.
The DroneBeacon DB120 module
When looking at the module itself, it’s big. About the same size as the Dronetag Mini Commercial RID module mentioned previously. The Bluemark DroneBeacon DB120 is 48 x 38 x 28 mm.
It does weigh less than the other module which was 32 grams – this one is only 25 grams.
As a basic broadcast module, it just doesn’t need to be so large. We’ll be covering an RID module soon that proves this fact.
The module has a strange design choice of being in an L shape as well. This is a unique design choice, to say the least, as every other RID module has been a flat rectangle.
The case for this module appears to be 3D printed. This is backed up by the Specs that state it’s nylon. So, more probable than not 3D printed. So, there is some questionability to its durability and lifespan.
Here again, I’ll point out that this probably wasn’t the choice of Bluemark but whoever the actual supplier is.
As to its longevity in the field, it has a three-to-four-hour battery, so you would need to charge it midday if you are an all-day flyer.
There are 4 battery LEDs to show the current battery level, allowing you to keep an eye on it.
Now you’ll see that the next statement is right from the product listing. The reason for highlighting it is simple: we have a lot to talk about concerning this statement.
The transponder can be configured easily using any device, by pressing the configuration button and connecting to the dronebeacon Access Point.
Here’s where we have to stop so that I can relay the experience I had with the setup process and the difficulties I had.
So, my DB120 DroneBeacon arrived. It was in a fairly sizable box for what was contained within. The original shipping box was 12″ x 8″ x 3″. Within that box was this tiny 3″ x 3″ x 2″ box.
Within that small box, I found my DroneBeacon DB120.
As you can see, a simple small white box with a sticker. On that sticker, of course, is a QR code to use that will take you to the User Manual.
Flipping through the manual, you come to page 8 of 13. Section 2 Configuration.
It was here I hit a major snag. It started out simple enough.
Move power switch to the ON position. Press the configuration button, the red configuration LED is turned on.
Now, this next step is where everything went wrong. I’ll quote the manual here so you can see it too.
Connect to the dronebeacon WLAN network (no password required).
Point your browser to http://18.104.22.168
Now, for every other module that I have been testing, this was the first time I came across this method.
For those of you who may not understand this, you’re not alone. It’s a very strange means of accomplishing this connection when a website would serve best.
Here’s what it amounts to. What the manual instructs is to disconnect from your internet/Wi-Fi and select the Dronebeacon network, which will be an available option.
Connect to the DroneBeacon Network by selecting it.
I know what should happen here; for some reason though it just wouldn’t. All I kept getting was this after making the connection and attempting to go to the IP address provided.
As I said, I know what is supposed to happen. What’s supposed to happen is that a Peer-to-Peer network should be accessed, and the router is making that possible through an IBSS. Or we’re looking at a Bridge Network.
Either way, doesn’t matter much as I never was able to get it to work. I tried it on my desktop, my laptop, a friend’s desktop, always getting back the same thing as above.
Needless to say, this was starting to get really frustrating. What good is any RID module if you’re unable to set it up and register it?
So, I reached out to Bluemark with one of those, what the heck am I doing wrong messages. The response was quick, and after a bit of back and forth.
I got this message:
(Does it have to be this complicated, people don’t like complicated.)
Typically the user setup is rather straightforward and easy. Just connect to the WLAN hotspot and connect with the browser to load the setting page. Of course you need to be able to login…
I assume it is something with your computer setup that is preventing access. Do you have a VPN? If so please disable. Or do you have plug-in/browser setting that forces to use https in websites? (Sometimes when you connect the first time to a website with https:// it refuses to load the http:// variant.)
Easiest would be to use another device like your phone. If that works, then it is something with the computer/browser settings.
Now, prior to this, I had somehow overlooked my phone entirely. Following the same process and using my phone, it did work, and I was able to get my module set up.
Bluemark showed a true concern for my issues and worked with me till we had those issues resolved. So, in that regard, they were great. They really were.
They also admitted that this system wasn’t the final version, and they were working on that, as yes something else was definitely needed.
They also stated that they understood that the manual’s information could use updating.
Overall, that interaction changed my opinion somewhat about this company.
The unignorable facts
The fact is this method of setting up and connecting the Dronebeacon is ridiculous and made me feel like it was 1984 all over again where we would call one modem with another modem.
“Ah! the joys of a pre-internet era. Now all I want to do is play Oregon Trail; where’d I put that Commadore 64 at.”
The thing is, if we were to try the Zephyr version it would probably be a similar setup. It would be hard to say, depending on how they set things up with their supplier. This could just be the method the supplier provided.
So, creating your own network and websites could take a bit of work. Work that would be well worth it in the long run though.
Another fact is that this is just a clone of another product. Of course, we’re going to see much, much more of this mimicking of the modules. So, no real fault there.
The guidelines for these types of Modules are limited as well, so there really is only so far the technology will allow you to go. Not only in size but form.
The takeaway from all of this is: watch what you’re buying and be sure you’re comparing them to the rest. There is no need to pay more than an item is worth.
At a price point of only $130, Bluemark has found a price that can work for most people and seems fair on the surface.
As we have come to know, Bluemark and Zephyr have found a third party supplier and are carrying identical items, although both have their own Declaration of Compliance that make it seem as if they have separate products.
There is no reason to seriously consider the Zephyr version at its $315 price point when it is the same as the one you can find for $130 through Bluemark.
The other takeaway is: don’t fall for the pressure of compliance. There is still plenty of time to weigh your RID needs and purchase a product that fits those needs best.
The Bluemark DB120 is a functional RID unit that does just what it is designed to do.
If you’re a pilot that has more than one aircraft, this unit wouldn’t be your first choice, as it is limited to one aircraft being entered into the settings at a time.
Meaning, if you wanted to use this across multiple platforms, you would have to constantly be updating the settings information.
We don’t know what’s lurking around the next RID bend. There could still be a product yet to be released that is perfect for you, or not! We simply don’t know.
Whereas Dronetag and its product lineup are setting the gold standard for RID modules, let’s look at this through the lenses of Olympic medal categories.
We would have Gold, Silver, and then Bronze. Dronetag with the Mini and their own Beacon are the Gold.
Bluemark, well they would currently be in the bronze category. That’s not to say they couldn’t position themselves to Silver.
They could, and easily. They have a module and have, for the most part, priced it fairly.
They have the will to be responsive to their customers and work through any issues. So, they have a product and good customer service.
Is it a great product? Well, no. It is a good product, though, and it worked flawlessly after getting it set up. Its size and weight will hurt as we see smaller and lighter units come down the pipe.
I do think that they can become a silver if they fix the things they already know need some help.
The fact that they are relying on a third party manufacturer isn’t a big deal, as we’ll see many more just like it popping up as we get closer to Sept 16th, 2023.
It does present some questions, however.
- Is my information secure?
- Who’s securing it?
- Who did manufacture the unit, and can they be trusted?
- Why such a price difference between two clearly identical items?
- What does the module actually cost?
- Am I getting my money’s worth?
Back in another life, I was an eBay seller. As you grew on that platform, new opportunities would be offered to you as a seller.
One of those was the eBay Marketplace Surplus. This was an area just for sellers to purchase bulk goods.
I did this once! I saw a listing for PS3 controller chargers. By buying in bulk, these charger units were only $1.58 each. What a deal, right?!
We haven’t finished Storytime yet. So, I bought, think it was 500 units at the $1.58 per unit cost. I was happy, these were new items, and the PS3 had just been released.
The thing is, if I bought 1,000 units, the cost per unit would drop to $.99 per unit.
This, of course, could even be lower if, say, you bought 5,000 units. OK, I think you’re getting the idea. When my bulk order arrived, I took my pictures and made my listing, and priced my units at $2.00 each.
I know, I know. Not much profit there in individual units. That’s the idea behind bulk. What I didn’t know at the time was just how many other people were doing the same thing.
When I went to post the actual listing, you could find plenty of these controller chargers for less than I could offer them.
I was stuck with 500 units that I was never going to get rid of, and that $.42 profit from each unit turned into a complete loss.
The moral of the story. Companies like Bluemark’s third-party supplier will flood the market with these modules. Some will be able to buy at the absolute lowest per unit cost, and others not so much.
You are either the one who can offer it the cheapest, or you’re the guy who can buy the bulk of the product to limit its availability.
Or the final option, you’re a small company that cannot handle the hit, and it closes you down as you can’t stand in the middle of the other two.
I hope for the sake of these small companies, that is not the case. I can easily see that being how it works out for them though.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!