drone traffic management

Here’s what’s wrong with a centralized control center to manage drone traffic, according to DJI

As drone sales continue to spike and their use becomes more ubiquitous, drone traffic management continues to ascend to the forefront of conversation around drones.

And the first step in traffic management? Creating a system to identify which drones are in the year.

The Federal Aviation Administration in June created a UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (sometimes referred to as ARC) to propose details of a drone identification and tracking system.

Among the proposals being thrown around? A centralized control center that would establish flight paths for drones to help them avoid other obstacles including other drones.

But one company that really doesn’t like that idea? It’s the one that perhaps has the most at stake: drone manufacturer DJI.

DJI in July released an updated version of a white paper outlining its intention for a way to manage and monitor drone traffic. And one thing it wants to make clear: it should not be a network-based approach.

Remote identification

The primary aspect of DJI’s vision for drone traffic management centers around a type of remote drone identification, according to a white paper released by the company in July.

DJI has proposed creating an identification mechanism that provides localized identification without an permanent recording or logging, but like a more advanced version of a license plate on a car.

“An identifier, such as a registration number, together with position information about the drone, and perhaps some voluntary information if the operator wishes, is transmitted from the drone, and is available to all receivers that are within range,” according to DJI’s white paper. “Authorized receivers of the transmission who believe the drone’s operator is violating a regulation or engaged in unlawful acts can record and investigate, similar to how a license plate might be recorded by someone who is cut offroad.”

If radio-based identification were used, it would be able to work through walls and at much greater distances than what a police officer would be able to see on a car’s license plate.

The argument against a network approach

DJI is advocating against a network approach, which would require the drone to be connected to a network.

The problem? A lack of network signals means it simply wouldn’t work. For privacy reasons, a network-based approach would like be opposed by drone operators who don’t want their flights tracked and recorded — or even hacked.

DJI’s white paper refers to such an approach as an “Orwellian model” that provides “more information than needed to people who don’t require it, and exposes confidential business information in the process.”

How DJI plans to implement its remote identification approach

DJI is proposing using protocols within the existing C2 or video link to transmit information to ground receivers, which most often use 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands, done at the manufacturer’s level.

For people building their own drones DJI proposes that builders include an add-on RF module.

So how do we solve drones not crashing into each other?

Some have suggested that a centralized network would ensure remotely piloted drones don’t crash into each other. DJI says that’s not a problem.

“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,”  according to the white paper. “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.”

One Comment

  • Thanks for this very clear outline of competing visions for UTM. The key argument I think is whether UTM should be built top-down or bottom-uo, by governments or by industry. And that’s all about trust. What will it take for regulators to trust industry to provide a solution which is safe? Once national regulators can agree what level of safety they require from a global UTM system then industry can go out and deliver it.

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