DJI has built an app that lets anyone track nearby drones

DJI is planning to release a free app that would let anyone with a smartphone track and identify drones flying nearby.

The app, which could launch in 2020 pending regulatory approval, would be capable of tracking a quadcopter or similar machine within a 1-kilometer (0.62-mile) range.

It would also display information such as the drone’s altitude, speed, direction of travel, and even the location of the operator. The aircraft’s ID number, if it has been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), would also appear. DJI said the app would track drones from multiple makers and not just its own devices, which include the popular Mavic machines.

The app has been designed to use the Wi-Fi Aware protocol for mobile devices, which enables a phone to receive and use the Wi-Fi signal directly from a drone without having to complete a two-way connection.

“Safety, security, and peace of mind”

China-based DJI said the app would offer “an easy way for anyone with a smartphone to monitor nearby drones for enhanced safety, security, and peace of mind.” For example, if drone deliveries one day become a thing, the app would provide reassurance to residents that the drone buzzing overhead is dropping off an order next door, and isn’t some ne’er-do-well trying to grab video footage of your back yard.

The proposed software also appears to be part of efforts to reassure the FAA that DJI is doing what it can to make drone flight data more transparent and accessible, thereby reducing the chance of potentially restrictive regulation further down the road.

Indeed, Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president of policy and legal affairs, said in a release: “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.”

With drone sales continuing to rise, the number of dodgy drone flights is sadly also on the up. While only a small percentage of people are thought to use their drones for such “rogue” flights, each offense can cause huge disruption. Major airports, for example, have been compelled to spend large amounts of money to protect their facilities from potentially dangerous incursions by the remotely controlled flying machines.

Technology for identifying drones in the sky is already available, but it is mainly aimed at security and law enforcement and involves extra equipment and setup costs, while DJI’s app would be free, widely available, quicker to deploy, and easier to use.

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