DJI Gets on With It: Demonstration of Drone-to-Phone Remote ID

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Remote ID (RID) is a sticky topic in the drone industry.  RID requirements are widely acknowledged to be a critical part of unmnanned traffic management (UTM) and the full integration of drones into the airspace.  Remote ID will allow regulators to see what’s in the air – and who is responsible for it.  It’s a way of connecting the aircraft with the operator, much like a license plate and registration link a motor vehicle to it’s owner when said owner runs a stop sign.

The DJI solution would allow anyone – regulators, city officials, other operators, private citizens – to see what was in the air around them.  “DJI, the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, today 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,” says a company announcement.
“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. 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.”

“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 Vice President of Policy & 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. 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.”

The Advantages to the System

While the regulators work through the complex and difficult process of creating standards and rules for RID, DJI is clearly making efforts to get on with it.  The advantages of the DJI system are clear – if most operators are using DJI drones, those operators won’t have to pay more money, acquire more equipment, or change their fleet to meet new requirements. That’s a significant benefit for operators – and for regulators, who could get widespread adoption of the system quickly.

“Our direct drone-to-phone solution is an easy and elegant solution for drone pilots. They will be able to comply with Remote ID expectations simply by updating the software on many drones already in widespread use, without any extra cost or equipment,” said Javier Caina, DJI Director of Technical Standards. “In contrast, remote ID solutions that require pilots to add telecommunications equipment, subscribe to an ID service provider, connect to a cell tower or buy a data plan for their drone will create new costs and barriers for beneficial drone operations. DJI’s direct drone-to-phone solution uses the latest technological advances to make remote ID compliance as easy and inexpensive as possible.”

The Disadvantages

The system could help significantly – but like many drone regulations, the problem isn’t entirely, or even mostly, with compliant operators.  Bad actors will always find a way around the system – to continue with the automotive analogy, stealing license plates isn’t a new or particularly clever ploy.  But if operators can “opt out” by just not updating their software or purchasing another type of drone, then flying blind for criminal purposes could be too easy.   RID is complex: several systems may be required.

When will it be available?

Nonetheless, DJI’s industry position makes this test significant.  The system has been built for ASTM standards that are set to be released shortly, and DJI will wait to collaborate further with regulators on what the actual requirements will be before releasing to the public.

“As more drones take to the skies every day, remote ID addresses the public’s interest in understanding what’s happening in the airspace,” said Christian Struwe, DJI Policy Director, Europe. “DJI’s drone-to-phone implementation helps accomplish that by allowing drone pilots to broadcast a simple description of their flights, so anyone viewing the smartphone app can understand that they are inspecting a roof, surveying a construction site, or performing another beneficial task with a drone.”

How it Works

From DJI’s press release:

“The solution uses the Wi-Fi Aware protocol for mobile phones, which allows the phones to receive and use the Wi-Fi signals directly from the drones without having to complete a two-way connection. Because it does not need to connect to a Wi-Fi base station, a cellular network or any other external system, it works in rural areas with no telecom service. In DJI’s preliminary testing, the Wi-Fi Aware signals can be received from more than one kilometer away.”

“Wi-Fi is the premiere way to connect devices in the modern era, and we are pleased that Wi-Fi Aware from Wi-Fi Alliance® provides a reliable, virtually cost-free solution for drone Remote ID that can be implemented in many drones with just a software update,” said Wi-Fi Alliance, a worldwide network of more than 850 companies. “Wi-Fi Alliance will help facilitate broad industry collaboration on implementation of Wi-Fi Aware as this solution is adopted by manufacturers and policymakers.”



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