Following the crash-landing of a drone on the grounds of the White House last week, the Chinese manufacturer of said drone, DJI, has released new firmware to prevent overzealous pilots flying UAVs anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Available to download now for owners of the company's popular Phantom 2 drones, the update signals a willingness from the company to work with regulators to clear the air for safer drone flight.
With more and more UAVs finding their way into the hands of hobbyists, commercial operators, and government employees who have enjoyed a drink or two, ensuring the aircraft don't come into contact with planes, presidential palaces and anything else to which they may pose a threat is critical to public safety and ultimately, their widespread adoption.
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To this end, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a set of rules in place designed to promote safer use. These include flying the drone within the pilot's line of site, not flying higher than 400 ft (122 m), keeping clear of manned aircraft and notifying airports or control towers if flying within 5 miles (8 km).
But these regulations won't be all that easy to enforce. So rather than relying on the goodwill of its customers to straighten up and fly right, DJI is turning to software to make sure its products aren't caught up in any illegal activity.
DJI has taken a proactive approach to integrating safety precautions into its Phantom drones. In April last year it announced a flight limitation system, which works with flight agencies and GPS to determine no-fly zones around the world's airports. Simply put, if your Phantom drone has a strong enough GPS signal and you are within a certain distance of an airport, you won't be able to take off.
At present, DJI says it is continuing to update its no-fly zone list, claiming "sensitive institutions and national borders" to be in its sights. This may well be in response to a drone loaded with crystal meth crashing down near the US-Mexico border last month.
These efforts to allay common safety concerns are a smart move from DJI, already a dominant figure in the consumer drone market. Pre-empting the risks, both potential and real, should help to appease the FAA and usher in the adoption of UAVs, and probably won't do the company's market share any harm either.