Recently DJI demonstrated their new Aeroscope system for tracking DJI UAVs within a 5km radius. Some see this technology as a boon to air traffic safety while others feel it is the ultimate betrayal of customer privacy. We were treated to a demo recently in under to understand exactly what Aeroscope can actually do. So let's dig into the Aeroscope system and see what this is all about.
Aeroscope is a portable, or permanently mounted radio receiver that can detect DJI UAV systems and display telemetry data about each aircraft. In a future GO app update, the pilot can enter additional information such as their Remote Pilot License number, aircraft registration number, airspace waiver or authorization information. This would allow personnel at critical locations to be alerted to UAV air traffic in their area. Permanent Aeroscope systems could be installed at locations such as airports, stadiums, and near critical infrastructure. Portable systems could be setup during wildfires, VIP travel. or other TFRs.
The way Aeroscope works is by intercepting the telemetry data stream between the controller and the aircraft. This allows the Aeroscope system to know where both the aircraft and pilot are located, heading, altitude, and speed of the aircraft, and plot its flight path. This is really no different than what radar and ADS-B for manned aircraft.
As important as what Aeroscope is, is what Aeroscope isn't. Aeroscope cannot:
The Aeroscope system that was demoed for me, only needed data access for displaying map data.
It is pretty much a given at this point that some form of identification system will be required at some point in the near future. Compared to alternative potential solutions such as 4G monitoring, the Aeroscope system is far less intrusive, does not disclose personal information, is not transmitted over public networks, and requires no additional hardware to be added to the aircraft. DJI has created this system to be completely stand-alone and to not make it easy for "just anyone" to have access to the data. The 4G systems would do constant tracking and logging while containing complete persona information.
There are a number of reasons why this is being blown so far our of proportion. First off, there is some distrust of DJI. As a China company, and one that doesn't have the best track record for privacy and security, it is understandable why some people may question their motives. Secondly, there are people who distrust our own government and feel this is an invasion of their privacy, and of course, there are those people that believe there is a conspiracy in almost anything.
Not everyone will be able to purchase an Aeroscope system. Each purchase will be heavily vetted by DJI. This group will include law enforcement, fire departments, airports, critical infrastructure operators, stadiums, and similar situations that could benefit from monitoring local airspace.
We don't see the Aeroscope system as a negative. If you have and authorization or waiver to be in a certain place, why not broadcast that so that the operators of those facilities know there is nothing to be concerned about? For wildfire management, this could prevent fire fighting aircraft from being grounded if there was a suspected drone in the air as they would know exactly where it is and be able to route around it. DJI could have (and likely did at some point) developed a beacon to create a No-Fly-Zone within a specified radius. An NFZ generator would be much more intrusive and could easily stop legitimate flights. The FAA does not want to cog up radar screens with tons of UAVs sporting ADS-B transponders, instead, they would prefer that the operators of those critical locations be able to track UAVs in their immediate area.