On March 22, 2017, global leader in consumer drone manufacturing DJI published a white paper that brings innovative thought-leadership to industry regulation. With the occasional media stories of privacy intrusion or drones being used for nefarious purposes, there is an increasing call for more robust governance.

Currently the US has a registration process, so if for any reason a drone gets into the hands of authorities following an infraction, the registration number can be verified against a database and the owner identified. However, in the case of a real-time incident where the aircraft is aloft, still hovering high in the sky so no registration number or identifier is visible, it would be difficult for authorities on the ground to be able to act.  For example, if a drone flies over a National Park, which is largely prohibited in the USA, and then the aircraft disappears from sight, how is an observing Police Officer or Park Ranger able to determine the culprit?

For this reason, DJI has suggested a unique, real-time solution to identification. Every drone would transmit, by radio, its location as well as a registration or other unique code.

DJI’s idea is that each drone has an inexpensive system on board that broadcasts its location and an identification number so that a person on the ground with the correct equipment can receive the broadcast. The name and address of the owner would not be revealed at that point, hence maintaining the owner’s privacy. Only law enforcement or FAA authorities would have that capability.

Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs commented, “DJI understands that accountability is a key part of responsible drone use, and we have outlined a proposal that balances the privacy of drone operators with the legitimate concerns authorities have about some drone operations,” he continues, “this is another example of how the UAS industry is innovating solutions to emerging concerns, and we look forward to working with other stakeholders on how to implement the best possible system.”

The FAA was instructed by Congress to develop ways to identify pilots of drones and was given a 2-year deadline to do so. DJI’s white paper is suggesting a workable solution. The system has been likened to cars having a license plate; anyone can see the plate but only authorities can identify the name and address of the owner.

The technology that DJI is suggesting could easily be integrated into drones. For example, DJI’s most recent releases, primarily the DJI Mavic Pro, Phantom 4 Professional, M200 and Inspire 2 (with X5S camera) would all be suitable candidates as could all other aircraft in the DJI fleet.

The technical solution that has been suggested by DJI is relatively simple to implement and if widely adopted by all drone industry manufacturers, could go one step closer to making these flying miracles safer for the whole community.