Smartphone App Can Quickly Locate Drone Pilots

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Smartphone app can “remotely identify airborne drones” as well as pinpointing the location of its pilot

Market leading drone maker DJI has developed a smartphone app that can help authorities deal with rogue drones and their pilots.

The Chinese firm announced that it has “demonstrated a direct drone-to-phone, Wi-Fi based solution to remotely identify airborne drones, pioneering an easy way for anyone with a smartphone to monitor nearby drones for enhanced safety, security and peace of mind.”

The issue of rogue drones has become an increasingly difficult problem for governments and law enforcement. Last Christmas rogue drones for example forced the shut down of Gatwick airport’s single runaway over a three day period.

Engineers are shown watching a Wing drone prototype at launch. Credit: Alphabet

Drone detection

It is understood that DJI’s Aeroscope drone-detection systems were being trialled by Gatwick Airport at the time of the drone intrusions there last December.

However, DJI believes it can offer help as it exploits a protocol called “Wi-Fi Aware”, with which drones broadcast information about itself.

“DJI’s remote identification solution, developed in collaboration with industry stakeholders and regulators, broadcasts information from drones directly to off-the-shelf mobile phones using existing Wi-Fi protocols,” said the firm.

“Using a simple app, anyone within radio range of the drone can receive that signal and learn the location, altitude, speed and direction of the drone, as well as an identification number for the drone and the location of the pilot,” it added.

Being able to track down the location of drone pilots could be a huge boon.

The multiple appearances of a number of mysterious drones at Gatwick airport delayed the Christmas get away of 140,000 passengers and disrupted 1,000 flights.

Despite an extensive police search and the use of military systems, as well as £50,000 reward, the unidentified drone operators were not caught.

A couple were arrested, but were released without charge. The police also reportedly carried out 1,200 house-to-house inquiries and took 222 witness statements in a police operation costing £790,000.

The police suspect that the criminals who operated the drones may have been an insider at the airport.

Drone demonstration

DJI apparently demonstrated the direct drone-to-phone remote ID system at a park in Montreal, Canada, during the International Civil Aviation Organization’s third annual Drone Enable conference.

Participants used standard phones from Samsung, Google and Xiaomi to receive Wi-Fi Aware signals from a DJI Mavic Air drone and a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise drone.

“Remote ID functions as an electronic license plate for drones, allowing anyone who is curious about a drone in the sky to learn more about what it’s doing,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI VP of policy and legal affairs.

“Around the world, aviation authorities have said remote ID is the key to allowing more complex drone use, and to solving concerns about safety and security,” said Schulman. “DJI’s direct drone-to-phone remote ID shows we’re committed to providing a solution in a way that is instantly usable worldwide without any additional infrastructure.”

Earlier this year, US authorities warned that drones manufactured or sold by Chinese firms, such as DJI, may pose a risk to national security or critical infrastructure.

In the UK, tough new laws are swinging into place to clamp down on the problems associated with the illegal use of drones.

The scheme, launched by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will create a central register of all drones operated in the UK.

From the end of November, it will be a mandatory requirement for drone pilots (including children) to register any drone or model aircraft weighing between 250g (9oz) and 20kg (44lbs). Registered drone owners have to be over 18 years old.

In June the European Union announced that drone usage will be governed by a new set of rules that have been “published to ensure drone operations across Europe are safe and secure.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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