DJI has announced a new geofencing system for its Phantom and Inspire drones. It means pilots can apply to override some of the restrictions providing they're registered with a DJI account.
The No Fly Zones originally introduced by DJI in 2014 restricted all Phantom and then Inspire pilots and stopped them flying near airports. The problem was that it also prevented qualified commercial pilots from flying even if they'd cleared it with air traffic control.
The new Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) system, which will launch in December 2015 in North America and Europe, will be a live system that constantly updates with new and even temporary restrictions. That means your ability to fly could change day by day. DJI say examples of when this would be used include forest fires, VIP visits and stadium events. But, for the first time restrictions for places like prisons, power plants and other sensitive areas will be included in the database where drone operations raise non-aviation security concerns.
DJI say "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."
By default the drones will not take off from or fly into any locations where they are restricted. However, if you have been authorised to fly in these areas you can temporarily unlock the restrictions. You have to register to get a verified DJI account before you can do anything. You'll need to use a credit or debit card or a mobile phone number before your account is valid.
The important thing to remember is that you will effectively be self-authorising the lifting of the restriction. It's up to you to make sure that your flight is safe and that you have arranged all the necessary permissions. The unlock function will not be available for sensitive national security locations or other prohibited areas.
DJI says it won't collect or store the data
DJI say the verified account provides "a measure of accountability" if the flight is subsequently investigated by the authorities. In other words, someone could come knocking on your door if you do anything that's illegal or contravenes aviation regulations. DJI says it won't collect or store the data and the service will be free. It begs the question "Who will collect and store the information if your flight can later be investigated?"
"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."
When the new system launches you will have to fly in an area with internet access so that the app can be updated and also so that you can get authorisation. DJI say they are working on a solution if you can't get online where you're flying.
GEO will be activated with updates of the DJO GO app and drone firmware. It will use geospatial data from AirMap in Santa Monica, California.
Brendan Schulman, DJI
Brendan Schulman, DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs who led the development of the new system. says “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.