DJI is about to make flying their drones safer thanks to a new “geo-fencing” system that will feed its flying cameras with continually updated airspace information and block them from taking off in or flying into unsafe zones.
The information, provided by AirMaps, will alert DJI drone users with up-to-date guidance on locations where flight may be restricted by regulations or safety concerns. Fliers will have info on temporary flight restrictions due to fires, stadium events, VIP travel and other events. According to DJI, the geo-fencing 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.”
This obviously raises some questions about using DJI drones for investigative journalism. National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz, for instance, was arrested for taking aerial photographs of cattle farms. Would cattle farmers and other corporate interests be able to request and activate no-fly zones over their facilities? (We’ve reached out to DJI for clarification on this and will update this post when they respond.) Update: DJI tells us that they’ll provide more specific information about which sites would be deemed security considerations when the software launches in December. “We will generally follow guidance issued by national aviation safety and national security agencies,” a spokesperson told us.
DJI is providing some means of over-riding this geo-fencing too. By default, a DJI drone won’t fly into or take off in locations “that raise safety or security concerns” the company said, but registered users with verified DJI accounts will be able to over ride these settings in “some” locations that aren’t national security-related.
Over-riding a no-fly zone will require a DJI user account verified with a credit card, debit card or mobile phone number. DJI says the verification service “provides a measure of accountability in the event that the flight is later investigated by authorities.” Verification is free and DJI says it won’t collect or store credit card and mobile phone information.
The new geo-fencing system will initially be available in North America and Europe in December by updating drone firmware and the DJI Go app.