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The rapid adoption of drones for business, academic, government and nonprofit uses has raised concerns about how authorities can identify drones and ensure they operate safely in complex airspace.
Drone manufacturer DJI believes existing technology and local communication protocols can provide a robust system for managing and monitoring drone traffic, without requiring new equipment or a massive new government database of all drone flights. The company’s regulatory approach to ensuring the safe growth of drone traffic was elaborated in two white papers.
DJI proposes that unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems do not require a centralized control center to establish flight paths and help drones avoid traditional aircraft, fixed obstacles and each other. Instead, drones can directly coordinate their flight paths and avoid obstacles by using On-board Anti-collision Technologies (OATs) already found on many civil drones, such as obstacle sensing systems and radio transmitters and receivers communicating with other drones, according to the company’s website.
“We envision a future in which drones will be smart enough to navigate safely through the airspace, avoiding obstacles, each other, and manned traffic, all on their own, in most locations,” the white paper states. “Because OATs are less complex than an end-to-end automated traffic management system, because they present fewer points of failure, and because they can be deployed with no required investment in ground-based infrastructure, we expect these technologies will receive regulatory approval well before a networked UTM system will.”
DJI also outlined an electronic identification framework for small drones, in which drones use their existing command-and-control radio or wifi link to transmit a registration number and other basic information such as its speed, direction and location. Rather than force every drone to transmit that information over wireless networks to a centralized server, no matter how innocuous their flight, DJI believes authorities should be able to use local sensors to obtain that information from drones that approach sensitive areas or have been the subject of a complaint.
DJI disclosed it has developed a working system detecting the radio signals transmitted by its drones and displaying them on a screen where authorities can view their registration numbers and monitor their activity. That system can be easily adapted to use similar wireless transmission protocols on drones from other manufacturers as well as hobbyists and inventors. DJI has deployed the system for testing and evaluation at two international airports since April 2017.
“DJI’s proposals share a common belief that the drone industry, aviation regulators, drone pilots and society at large can benefit most from drones if traffic management and identification systems are built with proven technology that can be implemented easily,” said Walter Stockwell, DJI Director of Technical Standards. “This approach protects the privacy rights of drone operators, limits the risk of central system failure, and makes it easier to fully unlock the potential of drones. We stand ready to work in partnership with industry and government to achieve these goals and make drones work better for everyone.”