Author(s): Raghu Gopal
As the world's leading provider of drones, DJI has good reason to support responsible drone use. By being proactive, the company can potentially avert stringent regulations that could limit the addressable market for these flying machines. Usage has grown particularly rapidly in the US, raising concerns about security. According to the company, there are now more than twice as many drones in use in the US than traditional aircraft. Yet the market is rather haphazard, with limited ability for authorities to identify individual drones.
Last week, at an event in Washington, DC, DJI demonstrated a new solution that can be deployed to identify and keep track of airborne drones. It also highlighted how industry, government and drone pilots can work together. A panel of experts representing the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board, airport operators and safety researchers discussed collaborative strategies for managing new concerns created by widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The company says its new system, called AeroScope, acts like an "electronic license plate for drones", offering authorities a way to identify and monitor drones. The technology uses the existing command and control signal, a radio transmission between a drone and the remote control. An authorized AeroScope customer, such as a local law enforcement agency, could use the solution to spot any DJI drone within a five-kilometre radius. The scanner shows the device's location, altitude, speed, direction, take-off location, operator location and an identifier such as a registration or serial number.
The fact that AeroScope only identifies DJI drones automatically limits its practical use, but the company is inviting other manufacturers to make their drones compatible with its system, which it claims will require a simple firmware update without any changes to existing hardware.
DJI also introduced a knowledge quiz, a basic test on drone safety that new DJI drone owners must pass before they pilot their first flight. The quiz will appear in the company's flight app on smartphones and tablets used to control the devices. DJI says it created the test, which consists of nine questions, in cooperation with the FAA. The user must answer all questions correctly before they can fly the drone. The quiz will launch in the US by the end of October 2017 and will be rolled out to other countries soon, customised for local rules and guidelines.
Drone makers have been catering to an enthusiastic and growing number of enterprises and consumers, but irresponsible and illegal use of the machines means the market could become highly regulated, shrinking volumes. DJI has wisely taken a series of steps during the past few years to prevent this. In 2016 for example, it unveiled a geofencing feature to its controlling app, which pulls in live FAA updates of temporary flight restrictions. It also added altitude limitations and a feature that automatically guides a drone back to its base when the battery doesn't allow it to go any further.
There's an aspect of the Wild West to the world of drones and this has been fuelling some regulations that prevent opportunities for LTE-enabled drones, affecting hardware makers, component suppliers and service providers. DJI is trying to deter additional obstacles, but the regulatory environment is likely to cloud the horizon for this market until solid rules rather than recommendations are implemented.