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DJI AeroScope is an invisible license plate that knows when drones go off limits

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Drone giant DJI has now turned proposals for a sort of invisible drone license plate system into reality. DJI AeroScope is a new system that uses existing drone hardware to gather details on a nearby drone’s location, reporting those details back to authorities. Exactly which details are broadcast will depend on local laws, DJI said. The company unveiled the system in a presentation in Belgium on Thursday, October 12.

While just announced to the public,  AeroScope was installed at two international airports in April, where DJI continues to test and evaluate the system, and it is available for installation at additional locations.

A drone is wirelessly linked to a controller — AeroScope uses that same link to share information on the drone with authorities. DJI said the system can broadcast, location, registration or serial number and telemetry data, which includes altitude, speed, and direction. When a drone powers on, the AeroScope software can immediately display the drone on the map.

AeroScope is the actualization of a white paper DJI presented in March suggesting an invisible license plate system that both allows authorities to respond to trespassing drones and respects the privacy of drone owners. DJI affirmed the research with a second presentation in September. The program, DJI stressed, does not broadcast over the internet but to local receivers, in order to help maintain privacy for drone owners. This helps ensure, according to DJI, that drone data isn’t recorded into a government database.

Drone owners will be prompted inside DJI software to choose which details are broadcast as part of the program. If local laws require identification, that setup process will change based on those regulations. DJI  said that if a jurisdiction doesn’t require it, then personal identification will not be part of the transmission, excluding the registration details from the location information.

Because the system uses existing hardware, AeroScope doesn’t create substantial costs, DJI said. But, that also means, currently, AeroScope only recognizes DJI drones. Analysts estimate two- thirds of the civilian drones in flight today are part of the DJI system. DJI says that other drone companies could also transmit the same information with software configuration without any additional hardware, which would allow the program to work both on new and existing non-DJI drones.

AeroScope is designed for installation at areas where drone presence is illegal or a safety concern, such as at airports. Just last week, a drone collided with a passenger airplane in Canada. DJI drones already have geofencing built into the app that notifies pilots when they are nearing a restricted area, including during temporary restrictions.

“The rapid adoption of drones has created new concerns about safety, security, and privacy, but those must be balanced against the incredible benefits that drones have already brought to society,” Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs, said in a statement. “Electronic drone identification, thoughtfully implemented, can help solve policy challenges, head off restrictive regulations, and provide accountability without being expensive or intrusive for drone pilots. DJI is proud to develop solutions that can help distribute drone benefits widely while also helping authorities keep the skies safe.”

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