While the FAA kicked off their UAS Symposium this morning, DJI published a thought project on how to track drones moving forward. Actually, DJI’s argument is to not track drones at all. Instead they would have an identification system that retains the privacy of pilots while allowing authorities to hold rule-breaking pilots accountable.

The published white paper from DJI has a few great arguments, join us for a quick overview.

There is no doubt, the modern drone is a powerful tool in many regards. We often promote the best drones in terms of their camera capabilities, for example, or the best racing drones for their sheer speed and maneuverability. These drones are built for multiple purposes, should not the laws treat them differently?

The above argument is my addition to what DJI has published, their approach is much more practical. We have many laws in the books for all sorts of technology, fair laws that have been cultivated over years of experience, DJI thinks we can utilize these laws for sUAS.

One of the easiest to understand examples are for the legal and ethical use of cameras. One cannot spy on their neighbor with a hand-held camera, nor should they be able to with a drone camera. However, proposed law coming from law makers and emotional citizens would ban or otherwise restrict the drone entirely, instead of penalizing the illegal use of the camera.

Related reading:
Do I need to register my drone with the FAA?
Racing drone things to know

Policing rule-breakers is just one side of the topic, the privacy of the pilot must also be considered. A car license plate, after all, does not provide others the name or address of the owner of the car, it simply provides a method to report wrong-doing to authorities. DJI, ultimately, thinks this is the approach for drones, a protected identification system.

The problem, however, is that you can’t read even the existing FAA identification numbers on drones while they are flying. One leading proposal from the ban camp is to permanently track all drone flight. Utilizing cellphone infrastructure, the idea is to identify every drone and track every flight. I must agree with DJI, this is a seeming flagrant violation of privacy. Particularly considering this proposed system would expose and store flight data, including precise GPS locations, it would expose you and your children’s locations over the web.

Related reading:
Best drones for children
Best drone for beginners

DJI proposes to utilize existing radios and frequencies inside of drones already flying, to transmit a craft’s FAA registration number. A special receiver on the ground would be able to identify the transmitted number, then, like a car license plate, can be reported to authority for prosecution if any wrong-doing has occurred.

Our personal safety as pilots is certainly of concern, we do not want angry people knocking on our doors to confront us, particularly when we fly completely legally but they are still offended. Not to ignore that there is a bit of an overlap, or gap, between what is legal and what is ethical. However, the larger impact will be in the business world, we can talk about companies protecting their operations by not being forced to give away when and where they fly. I’d rather talk about emergency situations, as well as Amazon’s drone delivery service.

If law enforcement, emergency services or military drone operations are all exposed through the same full-time monitoring system, it would be far too simple for criminals or terrorists to evade. That was a little deep, let’s keep it simple, would you want the entire world to be able to track your Amazon package delivery coming by drone? I would think not.

Finding the right balance of accountability and privacy in terms of the laws governing our flights is critical. The FAA UAS Symposium is a major talking point for the growth of aerial business, including our love of this hobby, we will bring you the most important aspects of the event, stay tuned.

Do you think a transmitted ‘license plate’ approach will work to protect pilots and allow proper prosecution of illegal flight?

Leave a comment