dji phantom 4 advanced LATAS precisionhawk airspace geofencing

DJI ditches AirMap, switches to PrecisionHawk for airspace data

DJI just majorly shook up the drone software industry.

DJI is now partnering with drone software company PrecisionHawk as its new provider of airspace data in North America, replacing former provider AirMap.

Drone behemoth DJI says the move will “(improve) its geofencing technology to refine the airspace limitations for drone flights near airports, in order to provide smarter protection for airplanes in critical areas.”

PrecisionHawk will now provide the geofencing technology behind DJI’s drones when it comes to drone flights near airports. Drone geofencing is a technology pioneered by DJI that creates a virtual “fence” around areas where it doesn’t want its drones flying. The software actually prevents pilots from flying into pre-defined areas such as over prisons or near the White House, unless it is manual overridden.

It’s likely going to be a big loss for AirMap, which had been partnering with DJI for the past three years.

“DJI is a drone leader and innovator, and we are proud of our work together in pioneering solutions for drone safety,” according to a prepared statement from AirMap. “AirMap’s core business remains the same: opening the airspace for safe commercial drone operations worldwide.”

But it will be interesting to see if AirMap can remain afloat now that another competitor has snagged a deal with what is by far the world’s biggest drone maker, and potentially most influential drone company overall.

AirMap added that other customers shouldn’t be too deeply impacted by the news.

“AirMap partners and customers can expect the exact same AirMap experience that they rely on today through our applications as well as third-party applications…and drone operators can still fly their DJI drones directly from the AirMap for Drones mobile app,” according to AirMap’s statement.

AirMap still has other, smaller projects going for it, including the 50-mile drone corridor in New York for beyond visual line-of-sight UAS testing.

What can DJI customers expect from the pivot to PrecisionHawk?

LATAS PrecisionHawk DJi geofencing

This chart demonstrates how GEO 2.0 applies detailed, risk-based airspace boundaries from LATAS to the airspace around airports that can be considered to involve relative high, medium, and low risk.

The new DJI airport information will be powered by PrecisionHawk’s Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety (LATAS) platform, “to refine airspace limitations for drone flights near airports in order to provide smarter protection for drones in critical areas and clarify restrictions,” according to a news release from PrecisionHawk. The partnership will go into effect as DJI releases its Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) Version 2.0 and will be phased in the coming weeks.

PrecisionHawk’s LATAS software was tested under the FAA Pathfinder Program as part of tests to understand how geospatial and software tools can facilitate drone flights that occur beyond visual line of sight.

So how does it work? The PrecisionHawk LATAS system is based on three-dimensional “bow tie” safety zones surrounding runway flight paths. The big difference between the two providers, PrecisionHawk says, is it uses  polygon shapes rather than just simple circles for geofencing to “better reflect the actual safety risk posed in those areas, while allowing more flights to the side of runways where risk is substantially lower.”

Display elements on the LATAS platform including telemetry and access to the Harris real-time manned aircraft feed, allowing pilots to observe the relative altitude and horizontal separation of intruding aircraft and other mission-critical measures.

This bow tie shape essentially opens more areas on the sides of runways to drone flights, as well as low-altitude areas more than 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the end of a runway.

The news is a bit oddly timed, as it comes in the wake of reports that PrecisionHawk laid off about 40 staff members, as confirmed by sUAS News. A PrecisionHawk spokesperson told sUAS News that the layoffs were “a result of multiple acquisitions…to bring new employees on board and align resources to new clients and projects.”

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