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The FAA provides to those who register their drone a 10-digit code which must be legibly printed on the frame of the device. However, a drone’s ID cannot be read unless somebody is in close proximity to the device, making it almost impossible to identify drones that are in flight. During the recent year, the automaker Ford has been working with the FAA to figure out how to track UAVs.

Their solution wants drones to use their anti-collision lights to flash their ID number in code that would be readable by a proprietary app. That would enable bystanders to use their smartphones to report misbehaving UAVs, Ford stated in a blog post, noting that they used this method to reliably identify drones up to 80 feet away from the observer during testing.

While that’s not far at all for surveillance drones, it might be close enough for drones endangering airports or driving paths — though it’s unclear how quickly the app could identify fast-moving aircraft. That range could be extended by up to 20 times using commonly-available DSLR lenses.

According to, Ford’s patent-pending idea is to use the lights to broadcast a drone’s 10-digit code in an ASCII-encoded binary signal at a baud rate — one that could be synced for consistency across the system to ensure universal compatibility.

The registration number can be captured and interpreted by a camera-based software app Ford developed. Their decoding algorithms, built using Google TensorFlow, can be run on a standard smartphone, which would enable the public to identify and report any misbehaving drones.

Light-based identification has its own problems, writes, but at least it would be easier to implement than broadcasting by radio, an approach that could require industry standardization. It’s a potentially cheap, efficient solution using equipment people already have (like smartphones), and given that consumers once again have to register their drones with the FAA, those 10-digit ID numbers will be more available.