Drones afford photographers an opportunity to get shots that would previously have been impossible or prohibitively expensive. They also afford outside actors an unprecedented ability to control a photographer’s camera.
DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, already exercises control over how people can operate their drones by imposing geo-fences around airports (in compliance with FAA regulations). They also enable geo-fences around areas where law enforcement has requested a Temporary Flight Restriction–such as wildfires or, more controversially, protests. Now they’re rolling out a technology called AeroScope which will broadcast the equivalent of a “drone license plate number” to law enforcement officials with the proper receiver, ensuring that drone owners can no longer operate their craft with anonymity.
According to DJI, the technology, dubbed AeroScope, uses the existing communications link between a drone and its remote controller to broadcast identification information such as a registration or serial number, as well as basic telemetry, including location, altitude, speed and direction to a receiver. For now, AeroScope is a point-to-point system, beaming information to a local receiver and not uploading information about the drone and its operator to the Internet. However, in its press release, DJI noted that “most drone flights will not be automatically recorded in government databases”–a caveat that suggests it’s possible that some drone flights could indeed end up there.
To date, AeroScope receivers have been installed at two international airports.
AeroScope works with all current models of DJI drones and doesn’t require new hardware to activate. Initially customers will be able to chose what identification information their drone is broadcasting to match local regulations. According to DJI, the AeroScope system will not automatically transmit any personally identifiable information “until regulations or policies in the pilot’s jurisdiction require it.”
Indeed, as we noted earlier this year, drone regulations vary widely throughout the United States and some locales ban the use of drone photography for even mundane purposes. It’s a good bet that rules governing what information your drone transmits will also vary widely.