The desert skies above Albuquerque, New Mexico fill with color every fall, as more than 500 hot air balloons gather for a glorious display of aerial wonder. They rise in waves at daybreak, starting in a broad field on the north edge of the city and slowly taking flight, filling the horizon in every direction.
Hundreds of thousands of people come to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta every year, to see what its organizers say is one of the most photographed events in the world. Keeping them all safe is a challenge in its own right, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposes a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) around the Fiesta. But event organizers realized they needed to be able to identify and monitor airborne drones to help protect balloons and spectators alike.
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“With drones rising in popularity to capture photos and video, it’s important to know who’s flying nearby, so we can coordinate with people who are approved and talk to others who may not be,” said Sam Parks, Director of Operations for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. “It’s obviously extremely important that we keep the airspace safe with so many huge objects in the sky. We needed a solution to integrate drones and hot air balloons, so we hired a company this year to help.”
The solution was DJI’s AeroScope, a remote identification system that monitors and tracks DJI drones in the area. It listens to the radio connection between a drone and its remote controller, and uses information encoded in that link to display information about nearby drones on a map. When a drone is turned on anywhere within range of AeroScope’s powerful antennas, authorities can see a live view of its location, altitude, speed and direction – as well as where the drone pilot is located, and what the drone’s serial number is.
Aerial Armor, a DJI Enterprise dealer based in Phoenix, Arizona, was selected to install and operate AeroScope for the duration of the 2018 Fiesta. The company set up two antennae overlooking the balloon launch field that could pick up drone signals from as far as eight miles away,and fed the data to a laptop in the public safety command center.
“Aerial Armor is proud to have partnered with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year to showcase the DJI AeroScope platform,” said Brandon Lugo, Operations Manager for Aerial Armor. “We believe our deployment contributed to enhanced public safety and increased situational awareness regarding unauthorized drone activity. Our team is excited to see the future of Aeroscope as we continue to promote safe, responsible drone operations.”
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Over nine days, Aerial Armor spotted 40 different drones flying within the TFR – some more than once. Some launched within the Fiesta grounds, while others launched from nearby areas and flew closer to the field. If a flight raised concerns, Aerial Armor notified Fiesta officials and local authorities so they could investigate further. The company later posted a full report online, showing how AeroScope provided actionable information to help ensure safety.
“Around the world, governments are asking for remote identification for drones to help manage the airspace,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “This type of feature is expected to be mandatory soon. AeroScope shows that it’s possible to create an effective ID solution that is free and unobtrusive for drone pilots, and respects their privacy by providing identification that is local in nature, similar to a license plate.”