DJI, the top gun in drone technology, issued the following release this past week end that announces a proposal for managing drone traffic. UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) is a gnarly issue for the UAV industry. There are a number of initiatives and strategies underway. Airmap is one company that has put a lot of resource against the issue. DJI’s wading in is likely to raise some eyebrows in the industry. First, it is a situation where a company with a vested financial interest is looking to define how their product is overseen. Second, it is a Chinese company and that makes some nervous. (It’s China!!!!) Any number of conspiracy theories etc can be found swirling about the dens of social media that frankly don’t make much sense (to me anyway). There is a reason why DJI leads the industry. It is because they have the best technology and feature set at a price point that is tough to beat. Given their leadership position and demonstrated expertise it might make sense to give this proposal a thorough vetting.
Here is the full text of the DJI release:
DJI, the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, 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 database of all drone flights. DJI outlined its regulatory approach to ensuring the safe growth of drone traffic in two white papers delivered Saturday at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Drone Enable conference in Montreal.
“The rapid adoption of drones for business, academic, government and nonprofit uses has generated enormous benefits for society, but it has also raised concerns about how authorities can identify drones and ensure they operate safely in complex airspace,” said Walter Stockwell, DJI Director of Technical Standards. “Rather than develop complicated new systems using untested technology, DJI believes industry and government can address these challenges with equipment available today, and without requiring every drone flight to be permanently recorded in a government database.”In one white paper available here, 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.
“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 presented an updated version of its March white paper outlining 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.
“No other technology is subject to mandatory industry-wide tracking and recording of its use, and we strongly urge against making (drones) the first such technology. The case for such an Orwellian model has not been made,” Stockwell said. “The focus of the primary method for remote identification should be on a way for anyone concerned about a drone flight in close proximity to report an identifier number to the authorities, who would then have the tools to investigate the complaint without infringing on operator privacy.”
DJI disclosed it has developed a working system that operates on these principles, detecting the radio signals transmitted by DJI 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 Stockwell, who delivered both papers to the ICAO conference. “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.”