DJI has jumped out ahead with a new Fly-Safe System to keep drone aviators from flying where they shouldn’t. Rolled out with a firmware update the new geofencing software stops users from taking off from restricted areas. More details below.
Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) will provide DJI drone users with up-to-date guidance on locations where flight may be restricted by regulation or raise safety concerns. For the first time, drone operators will have, at the time of flight, access to live information on temporary flight restrictions due to forest fires, major stadium events, VIP travel, and other changing circumstances. The GEO system will also include for the first time restrictions around locations such as prisons, power plants and other sensitive areas where drone operations raise non-aviation security concerns.
The drone will by default not fly into or take off in, locations that raise safety or security concerns. However, in order to accommodate the vast variety of authorized applications, the new system will also allow users who have verified DJI accounts to temporarily unlock or self-authorize flights in some of those locations. The unlock function will not be available for sensitive national-security locations such as Washington, D.C. or other prohibited areas.
Unlocking will require a DJI user account verified with a credit card, debit card or mobile phone number. DJI will neither collect nor store this information, and the service will be free. The verified account, required only if and when a user chooses to fly in a location that might raise an aviation safety or security concern, provides a measure of accountability in the event that the flight is later investigated by authorities.
“DJI invented geofencing over two years ago and now continues its industry leadership by balancing enhanced safety with the flexibility of accountable self-authorization,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs who led the development of the new system. “We believe this major upgrade to our geofencing system will do even more to help operators understand their local flight environment, and to make smart, educated decisions about when and where to fly their drones.”
“Our years of actual user experience have shown that in most instances, strict geofencing is the wrong approach for this technology, and instead we are helping operators make informed, accountable decisions,” Schulman added.
This new system will launch first in North America and Europe. Other regions will receive an update to airport data, but will continue to use the existing “No Fly Zone” geofencing system the company pioneered in 2013 until the new system is launched in each region.
GEO is powered by geospatial data from Santa Monica, California-based AirMap.
The new mapping system will become available in December via an update of the DJI Go app and drone firmware.
A Q&A about the new system follows.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the GEO Information System?
The GEO system is a best-in-class geospatial information system that provides drone operators with information that will help them make smart decisions about where and when to fly. It combines up-to-date airspace information, a warning and flight-restriction system, a mechanism for unlocking (self-authorizing) drone flights in locations where flight is permitted under certain conditions, and a minimally-invasive accountability system for those decisions. This is an implementation of what is commonly referred to as “geofencing” and replaces our first-generation “No Fly Zone” geofencing system that DJI invented and implemented in its drones in 2013.
Q: With what drones will DJI GEO work?
For now, since the system will be available through an upgrade of our DJI Go app and drone firmware, the new geofencing system will work with our Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 drones and, we expect, our future generations of drones.
Q: How will live updates work?
The latest information on temporary flight restrictions in the location of a planned flight will be sent to DJI drone operators via the DJI GO app.
Q: How will DJI designate different locations?
Some areas will be designated as Warning locations to make operators aware of potential concerns that are not primarily safety-related (for example, a protected wildlife area). Other areas, such as those surrounding airports, will be Authorization zones, where the drone can’t be flown without taking additional steps to “unlock” the zone using a verified account. The remaining category will be Restricted zones where the drone will not operate and no unlocking is possible for security reasons, such as Washington, D.C.
Q: What types of locations will be included?
Our primary focus is on aviation safety and national security. DJI will include airports, prohibited and restricted airspace, national security sites, prisons, and power plants, among other locations. Additionally, when a user is connected to the internet, GEO will provide live guidance on temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) to inform users and help prevent inadvertent flight, including TFRs relating to forest fires, major league sporting events, and other changing conditions.
Q: So DJI will tell me what the aviation regulations are?
No. The GEO system is advisory only. Each operator is responsible for checking official sources and determining what laws or regulations might apply to his or her flight. In some instances, DJI has selected widely-recommended general parameters (such as a five-mile radius at airports) without making any determination of whether this guidance matches regulations that may apply specifically to you. Also, to the extent understanding the applicable regulations involves interpreting statutory or regulatory language, operators must make their own interpretation, or seek guidance from regulators or an attorney. We expect to continue to work collaboratively with aviation authorities around the world to determine what kind of guidance to drone operators would be most effective at promoting safe and responsible flying.
Q: I am authorized to fly closer than five miles from an airport. How will this work?
In Authorization zones such as the one you mention, an operator simply needs a verified DJI account and uses the DJI GO application to unlock the area. Making sure that you are authorized is your responsibility.
Q: How do I verify my DJI account?
By providing a credit card, debit card, or mobile phone number. DJI will not collect or store this information. We may add other verification methods in the future.
Q: I’m a commercial operator. Does this apply to me?
The GEO system will provide the same information to every operator. We understand that regulations may vary depending on whether your operation is commercial, recreational, educational, humanitarian, or governmental. DJI drones are, by far, the most popular brand in all categories, which is why our system will allow for flexible unlocking based on operator judgment. Also, a drone used on Sunday for recreation might be used on Wednesday for business. Because the main functionality of geofencing is to provide information and assist in preventing unintended operations in areas that raise concerns, the system generally has been designed with newcomer recreational operators in mind. Commercial operators are generally expected to research and know about restrictions and conditions that may apply to their operations. The unlocking mechanism allows each user to make an appropriate individual operational decision independent of the guidance that is provided by DJI.
Q: Will GEO prevent me from flying in places where I can fly today?
We are expanding the number and types of areas that are included, but also providing a self-authorizing unlock feature. That means, by simply using a verified account, you will actually be able to fly in more locations than you can today under our current system, including indoor locations that happen to be near airports. You may need to complete a few additional steps, but we think that extra work helps increase awareness of safety concerns. If you aren’t able to unlock an area, it may be because your location is particularly sensitive (such as the area near Washington, D.C.), or because the regulations have changed.
Q: Where is DJI getting its airspace data from?
We have partnered with Airmap, the leading digital airspace information company, to provide up-to-date airspace information, including airport locations and TFRs. Airmap works with aviation authorities and other governmental agencies around the world to collect and organize airspace and geospatial information for use by drone manufacturers and operators. In some cases, for precautionary or technical reasons, DJI’s implementation of this data in its GEO system may differ from the original data Airmap has on file.
Q: What if I find an error?
DJI will create an error-reporting system. We want our new system to be as accurate and helpful as possible. The unlocking mechanism should allow you to fly in these locations, based on your own judgment, while DJI and AirMap evaluate your error report.
Q: Will this cost me anything?
No. There will be no charge to upgrade to the new GEO system, assuming your DJI equipment is compatible with the upgrade. Verifying your account with a credit card will not result in a charge. The credit card is used only as a credential to verify the account. Your carrier’s standard text message rates apply to verification that uses SMS or text messaging communications.
Q: I usually fly without an Internet-connected device. How will I use the system?
We are working on an approach for our customers who do not have Internet service at the flight location.
Q: Where is GEO being implemented?
Initially, we are starting with North America and Europe. We expect to add other regions in the near future, and will make announcements. Also, airport locations in the existing system will be updated elsewhere worldwide, even in locations where GEO is not implemented at first.
Q: Is this related to the FAA UAS registration initiative?
No. This is an unrelated industry-led approach to operator education, responsibility, and accountability, and has been under development since the summer. DJI will not require governmental registration in order to use GEO. If and when a drone registration system is implemented, we will evaluate whether it may be used to enhance the functionality of GEO. We do not feel that disclosure of the personal identification of drone users is required in order to create a framework for safe drone operations.
Q: Are you going to turn over my information to the government?
In general, not unless there is a specific reason to. In the event of an aviation safety or law enforcement investigation that compels us to disclose information, our verification partner may provide information about the credit card or mobile phone number used to verify the DJI account that unlocked an Authorization zone at the location, date, and time in question. This creates a path to accountability in the event of an incident without requiring burdensome up-front collection of personal information, and we feel strikes the right balance at this time. Our observation is that the vast, vast majority of drone operators are responsible community citizens who follow the rules as well as common sense, and therefore it is only necessary to create an accountability mechanism when the operation occurs in a location that raises an aviation safety or security concern. We think our customers deserve the benefit of the doubt, and an accountability system that is minimally invasive.
Q: Should geofencing be legally mandated?
Based on years of actual customer user experience, we strongly feel the answer is “no.” This technology is being used by a wide variety of operators, who have differing types of authorization that can also vary by date and time. In virtually every area that might be a good candidate for a geofence, we have encountered authorized operators worldwide already engaged in compelling applications. Restricting the use of drone technology based on geographic location alone is not a good solution to the concerns that have recently been raised, and will hobble the beneficial future uses of a technology that is still in its infancy.