The world’s biggest commercial drone manufacturer DJI revealed on Wednesday that it is developing technology to track and identify drones via smartphone app in a bid to reduce airspace disruption and improve data transparency in the industry.

Why it matters: Unauthorized drones have caused flight delays and and cancellations, costing the airspace industry millions of dollars. American and European authorities are increasingly pushing drone makers for a system to better monitor the technology.

Details: Users of the app will allow be able to identify all drones flying within a certain radius, just as license plates are used for cars, DJI said in a press release (in Chinese).

  • It is unclear when the app will be made available to the public, as DJI is refining the tool and waiting for mandatory drone identification regulations to kick in next year.
  • Users can view the position, speed, altitude, and direction of drones on the app, which the company plans to make available for public use.
  • Drones will transmit wireless broadband signals that the app can read from up to a kilometer away without a cellular network, so it can be used in remote areas, the company said.

“It’s possible to provide this information in a direct drone-to-phone broadcast, without requiring an expensive mobile data connection, an additional transponder on the drone, or other complex tech.”

—DJI spokeswoman to TechNode

Context: The European Aviation Safety Agency will roll out mandatory remote drone tracking and identification regulations in 2020, and the US Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of drafting relevant legislation along with a cohort of industry stakeholders.

  • The app is compliant with a standard developed by ASTM International, a global technical standards organization, with the consensus of 35 industry players.
  • London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, has been grounded twice this year due to unauthorized drones been sighted near its airspace. In January, the military was called in to help airport officials and police to investigate a drone sighting. In September, London police threatened protesters with life sentences in order to deter plans to shut down the airport for 24 hours by flying drones at regular intervals in its no-fly zone.
  • Gatwick airport in London reportedly grounded an excess of 1,000 flights carrying 140,000 passengers during last year’s Christmas holiday season due to unauthorized drones flying near its no-fly zones, the Guardian reported.

Eliza was TechNode's blockchain and fintech reporter until July 2021, when she moved to CoinDesk to cover crypto in Asia. Get in touch with her via email or Twitter.

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