In an effort to allow U.S. authorities to identify drone owners, DJI has proposed an electronic identification framework for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Notably, the company says the system would also respect the privacy of operators.
Last year, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop approaches to remotely identifying the operators and owners of UAS and set deadlines for doing so over the next two years. In turn, DJI has outlined a concept in which each drone would transmit its location, as well as a registration number or similar identification code, by using inexpensive radio equipment that is already on board many drones and that could be adopted by all manufacturers, the company claims.
“DJI understands that accountability is a key part of responsible drone use, and we have outlined a proposal that balances the privacy of drone operators with the legitimate concerns authorities have about some drone operations,” states Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs. “This is another example of how the UAS industry is innovating solutions to emerging concerns, and we look forward to working with other stakeholders on how to implement the best possible system.”
According to DJI, anyone with the proper receiver could obtain those transmissions from the drone, but only law enforcement officials or aviation regulators would be able to use that registration number to identify the registered owner.
DJI explains that the system would be similar to that of automotive license plates, which allow anyone to identify a nearby vehicle they believe is operating improperly, but it can be traced to the owner only by authorities.
“The best solution is usually the simplest,” DJI wrote in a white paper on the topic, which can be downloaded here. “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.”
Last week, DJI submitted the white paper to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which is collecting perspectives on how to remotely identify small drones in the U.S. in advance of an FAA effort to develop a consensus approach. DJI believes a remote transmission system is preferable to a network that attempts to track or record the location of all drones in real time, which would be far more complex to develop and would expose the confidential information of drone users, according to the company.
The DJI white paper notes several examples of professional and personal operations of drones in which operators have a legitimate need to keep their identity and the nature of the operation confidential – e.g., an energy company using drones to survey the location of a prospective new wind farm.
In addition, given that some drones have been targeted by gunfire and some drone pilots have been threatened with assault despite flying legally, DJI believes it is prudent to allow individual drone owners to avoid disclosing their identities to the general public.
“No other technology is subject to mandatory, industry-wide tracking and recording of its use, and we strongly urge against making UAS the first such technology. The case for such an Orwellian model has not been made,” the white paper says. “A networked system provides more information than needed to people who don’t require it and exposes confidential business information in the process.”
The company notes that the overwhelming majority of personal and professional drone pilots operate safely and responsibly; however, DJI recognizes that law enforcement and aviation regulators need to be able to identify the owners of drones that may be operating unlawfully or in highly sensitive areas. In addition, many people who are unfamiliar with the benefits of drones will also appreciate knowing that authorities can identify their operators when necessary, the UAS manufacturer concludes.