DJI’s AeroScope technology claims to have the ability to identify and track DJI-manufactured drones mid-flight using telemetry data sent by the drone aircraft to paint a detailed digital picture of the object.
AeroScope is touted by DJI as a “new solution to identify and monitor airborne drones with existing technology that can address safety, security and privacy concerns.”
According to FStoppers, AeroScope is currently in use at two airports (and given our recent story about the Drone-Skyjet collision in Quebec City, it would seem an ideal location for the technology).
Detecting and identifying drones poses a number of technical challenges for engineers, among them include what method of detection to use (optical/infrared, acoustic, radar, or other electronic methods) and how to deal with a potential threat by neutralizing it (jamming it or destroying it entirely).
While there are multiple paths to the end goal, the technology is expensive and the customer base is highly specialized.
DJI drone aircraft continuously broadcast a stream of data via the aircraft’s radio telemetry link. This information includes GPS position, speed, altitude, direction, and battery status, among other data.
Using AeroScope, your drone can listen in on the data streams of other aircraft to identify those nearby, all without the need of expensive radar technology.
DJI explains its technology with the following statement: “Since AeroScope transmits on a DJI drone’s existing communications link, it does not require new on-board equipment or modifications, or require extra steps or costs to be incurred by drone operators. This approach also avoids substantial costs and complexities. [An] AeroScope receiver can immediately sense a drone as it powers on, then plot its location on a map while displaying a registration number.”
In case of an emergency or suspected threat, authorities such as the police, security agencies, aviation authorities and “other authorized parties” can utilize an AeroScope device to monitor, analyze, and “act on that information” presented – in other words, they can take control of the drone and disable it if necessary.
DJI demonstrated the technology in Brussels, Belgium, likening the registration number on a drone to a license plate number on a personal vehicle.
AeroScope works on all DJI drone devices – estimated to comprise over two-thirds of the consumer drone market according to DJI’s press release.
DJI hopes AeroScope balances the needs of governments and authorities to preserve safety and drone pilots' rights to privacy and reasonable accommodation of their flying habits, “Because AeroScope relies on drones directly broadcasting their information to local receivers, not on transmitting data to an internet-based service, it ensures most drone flights will not be automatically recorded in government databases, protecting the privacy interests of people and businesses that use drones. This approach also avoids substantial costs and complexities that would be involved in creating such databases and connecting drones to network systems.”
In a release on DJI’s website, DJI’s Vice President for Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman said that “authorities want to be sure they can identify who is flying near sensitive locations or in ways that raise serious concerns…DJI AeroScope addresses that need for accountability with technology that is simple, reliable, and affordable — and is available for deployment now.”
Currently AeroScope only works on DJI drones, which are the vast majority of commercial drones, but that does not rule out the inclusion of other makes in the future. DJI cannot read the data streams of other drone manufacturers because it does not have the necessary key to decode that data (something that FStoppers speculates could be obtained through a license).
There are no details currently available on how DJI plans on making this technology available to other drone manufacturers.
In a bold market move by the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer, DJI’s AeroScope technology is a step towards the kind of self-regulation the industry needs to calm media-stoked fears about the dangers of drones in the public space.
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