DJI_Phantom

Shenzhen-based drone maker DJI has announced an update to the ‘geofencing’ feature within their mapping service, meaning users will now be warned when they are flying into restricted zones including wildfires and prisons.

Over the past year there have been several reports of fire-fighting helicopters that have been grounded due to unsafe conditions caused by amateur drone hobbyists flying near fire sites. Drone companies have since been under pressure to introduce software that can disable drones without imposing over-reaching restrictions. 

DJI’s new software will disable drones from flying by default in restricted zones, though users with a DJI account verified with a phone number and credit card will be able to unlock the drone regardless of the zoning. Under the new system, DJI will be able to assist authorities to track unauthorized users that have unlocked their drone within a restricted zone. 

DJI says the new software will provide “accountability”, but that the company itself will not collect personal data for commercial purposes. 

“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,” says Brendan Schulman, DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs.

The software is a compromise between complete airspace freedom for drones and controversial blanket deactivation technologies that prevent firefighting staff, airline personnel and other authorized users from operating the drones in restricted spaces.

Currently DJI has a “No Fly Zone” system, enacted in 2013, that puts restrictions on drones flying close to certain areas including military bases and airports. The new system will be enacted in Europe and North America with other countries to follow.