Why I’m a fan of DJI’s latest move on geofencing
DJI this week announced new plans to expand the list of its restricted flight locations to include places like prisons and power plants.
The software update is an expansion of its geofencing program, a virtual barrier which literally prohibits the drone from taking off or flying into areas in its geofence. DJI already uses geofencing in “no-fly-zones,” which are mostly airports and Washington, D.C.
But with greater limitations to where users can fly also comes greater freedom.
The latest update actually allows users to unlock the geofence. DJI’s new system will provide temporary access to restricted flight zones to drone operators with verified DJI accounts registered with a credit card, debit card or mobile phone number.
The goal is that users would have accountability in the event that they flew over a restricted area. Registered users could hypothetically turn off the geofence and fly over a football stadium, but if police found that they were illegally flying over the area, they could connect with the third party who maintains the credit card or phone number data to track down the perpetrator.
The move solves two problems.
- “Ignorant – or dare I say – idiot” Phantom pilots. I can say this, because I was one once. When I first got a drone, I undoubtedly flew in parks within 5 miles of an airport, simply because I did not know. I wasn’t trying to cause any harm, and I don’t believe I ever have. But, had I interfered with a plane, that could have posed a huge problem. The new move simply informs users they can’t take off in certain areas, and users will move to parks that are a safe distance away from airports.
- People who want to break the law will break the law. Yes, people who want to break the law will find away around it, always. If people really wanted to fly their Phantom over a football stadium they could find a way to do it. Now, this system makes it so people can, but also forces accountability as users will have to register if they are flying in a restricted area.
The ability to turn off the geofence makes sense for people like drone instructors, who may actually be approved to fly at an airport, or for inspectors who actually do need to fly their drones near power lines.
Most of the reckless Phantom users in the media have been people who simply didn’t know they were doing — such as the classic case of the man who accidentally crashed his drone near the White House. For the rest of us, rather than having onerous, government mandated restrictions for drone pilots, DJI is doing the policing themselves.
The geofence likely won’t cut down on “malicious” drone use, and that’s not the point. The geofence will help those 1 million people expected to receive a drone this holiday season to be a little more responsible with their new drones. So even if the Phantom newbies out there aren’t experts and don’t know all the laws, we can guarantee they have a positive experience flying their new quadcopter, and there won’t be another accidental White House drone crash.