In a move that’s meant to help concerns about unmanned traffic management, DJI, the major Chinese drone manufacturer, developed a new drone identification tracking system called Aerospace.
Conceptually, Aerospace will be similar to the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) found on most aircraft. The major difference is that unlike the latter, Aerospace will operate on Wi-Fi bands instead of the 1.3GHz frequencies reserved for TCAS.
Aerospace was designed to operate on 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz Wi-Fi bands, which will allow drones to broadcast their position, direction, speed, make, model, altitude, serial number as well as anything else their pilots are willing to provide. According to DJI, integrating Aerospace into their products will not be a difficult thing to do, as most of them already have built-in Wi-Fi radios. (So that there’s no need to add any new hardware.)
Aside from tracking drone traffic, Aerospace is also expected to prevent drone and aircraft collisions by allowing drone pilots to coordinate with local air traffic control systems. Once the system is active, ground stations can detect DJI’s drones within a 5km radius. These ground stations were originally intended for stationary installations, like airports for example, but they can also be deployed in vehicles for mobile monitoring activities.
However, Aerospace is far from perfect. It still has a few missing features. For example, the system does not allow drones to avoid flying objects on their own. Such a feature would be very useful in complex urban environments, where traffic monitoring and detection may not be enough to prevent security risks.
Another potential problem is that drone signals may cause confusion for aircraft pilots. One or two drone signals may not be a big deal, but if there are hundreds of them within a given area then pilots may not be able to respond effectively due to the amount of information.
Despite these problems, DJI and other drone manufacturers are hard at work creating viable safety and security features for their drones. As for Aerospace, it is already available and DJI has been testing it at two airports in the past few months. Flight simulation capabilities are even being planned to allow inexperienced drone operators to practice their piloting abilities before performing actual flights.
Although such features certainly are useful, it’s also important to remember that the main purpose behind systems, like Aerospace, is to make drones safer and easier to use for everyone. At a time where drones are becoming more numerous (and therefore more dangerous to aircraft), security features, like Aerospace are tremendously helpful.