DJI, the Chinese drone maker has made an app that scans for nearby drones. The drone identifies its details as well as the location of its pilot. A Wi-Fi protocol is used for monitoring the “drone-to-phone” system. It displays information that the drone broadcasts about itself and which can be easily picked up by a smartphone.

“Using a simple app, anyone within radio range of the drone can receive that signal and learn the location, altitude, speed, and direction of the drone, as well as an identification number for the drone and the location of the pilot,” the company said in a statement.

DJI app drone to phone
Image source: Reuters

According to BBC, the functionality, which will only work for DJI drones, could be rolled out to the existing models via a software update. However, there is a pending agreement on regulation regarding remote identification of drones. The DJI app could be made available in 2020. DJI state that the purpose of the new technology was “enhanced safety, security and peace of mind.” Furthermore, the company also told the broadcaster it had not yet decided whether it would force customers to install the update.

Wi-Fi Aware

The use of the “Wi-Fi aware” protocol means no extra equipment is needed to identify the drones. “Because it does not need to connect to a Wi-Fi base station, a cellular network or any other external system, it works in rural areas with no telecom service. In DJI’s preliminary testing, the Wi-Fi Aware signals can be received from more than one kilometer away(0.62 miles)” the company stated.

However, the main issue that arose was the fact that many smartphones do not currently support “Wi-Fi aware”, including Apple’s iPhone.

“To be sure, this new app won’t be as powerful as AeroScope, the proprietary system to track rogue drones released by DJI in 2017. DJI offered to open it up to other manufacturers, but none took the company upon it, a spokesperson for the company said. AeroScope has much stronger transmission power — as strong as the drone’s regular command-and-control signal — so it can pick up drones from miles away. As such, airports, prisons, and stadiums will probably continue to use AeroScope,” the spokesperson said.

Even though it could take more than a year, the US Federal Aviation Administration is currently in the process of putting together a ruleset for mandatory remote drone identification. In the meantime, manufacturers such as DJI are being encouraged to come up with their own solutions.