Have civil­ian drones trans­mit ID info, maker urges

Chi­nese firm says code could help flush out rogues.

Austin American-Statesman - - MONEY & MARKETS -

The world’s WASH­ING­TON — largest man­u­fac­turer of civil­ian drones is propos­ing that the craft con­tin­u­ally trans­mit iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion to help gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity agen­cies and law en­force­ment fig­ure out which might be­long to rogue op­er­a­tors.

D JI, a Chi­nese com­pany, said in a pa­per re­leased Mon­day that ra­dio trans­mis­sions of an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion code, pos­si­bly the op­er­a­tor’s Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s reg­is­tra­tion num­ber, could help al­lay se­cu­rity con­cerns while also pro­tect­ing the op­er­a­tor’s privacy.

The pa­per sug­gests steps that can be taken to use ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies to de­velop an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, and that op­er­a­tors could in­clude more iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion in ad­di­tion to a num­ber if they wish.

Any­one with the proper ra­dio re­ceiver could ob­tain those trans­mis­sions from the drone, but only law en­force­ment of­fi­cials or avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tors would be able to use that reg­is­tra­tion num­ber to iden­tify the reg­is­tered owner.

Law en­force­ment agen­cies and the U.S. mil­i­tary raised se­cu­rity con­cerns last year af­ter FAA of­fi­cials pro­posed per­mit­ting more civil­ian drone flights over crowds and densely pop­u­lated ar­eas.

In re­sponse, the FAA an­nounced in Jan­uary that it was de­lay­ing a pub­lic no­tice of the pro­posal while the agency works to ad­dress the con­cerns.

On Mon­day, FAA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Huerta kicked off a three-day drone sym­po­sium in sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton by an­nounc­ing that the agency is form­ing an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to make rec­om­men­da­tions on how to re­motely track drones, as well as try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate a di­a­logue etween gov­ern­ment agen­cies and the drone in­dus­try on how best to ad­dress se­cu­rity con­cerns.

State and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, as well as some in­dus­tries, want to ban drone flights near cer­tain sen­si­tive sites, such as nu­clear power and chem­i­cal plants.

“How can we make sure un­manned air­craft don’t gain ac­cess to sen­si­tive sites? And af­ter see­ing how drones can be used for ill in­tent over­seas, how can we en­sure sim­i­lar in­ci­dents don’t hap­pen here?” Huerta told the sym­po­sium.

“These aren’t ques­tions the FAA can or should an­swer alone,” he said.

A key con­cern is that there are no means for se­cu­rity agen­cies to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween drones that may pose se­cu­rity risks from those that don’t.

Bren­dan Schul­man, an at­tor­ney for D JI, com­pared the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion trans­mis­sions to a car li­cense plate. The lack of a li­cense plate is a rea­son for po­lice to stop a car for a fur­ther look while let­ting cars with proper plates con­tinue to travel by, he said.

Last year, Congress di­rected the FAA to de­velop ap­proaches to re­motely iden­ti­fy­ing drone op­er­a­tors and own­ers, and set dead­lines for do­ing so over the next two years.

Se­cu­rity con­cerns about civil­ian drones ex­tend be­yond the United States. Reg­u­la­tions have been pro­posed in Europe re­gard­ing tech­nol­ogy to en­able au­thor­i­ties to re­motely iden­tify drones, in­clud­ing by the Euro­pean Avi­a­tion Safety Agency, the FAA’s coun­ter­part. France and Ger­many have also called for re­mote iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy. Italy and Den­mark al­ready in­clude iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies in reg­u­la­tions that seem not to be en­forced be­cause a means of com­pli­ance doesn’t yet ex­ist, the D JI pa­per said.

FAA and drone in­dus­try of­fi­cials have been dis­cussing the pos­si­ble cre­ation of an on­line net­work that could be ac­cessed by a mo­bile phone so that drone op­er­a­tors can sub­mit flight plans be­fore tak­ing off. Those plans would be avail­able to law en­force­ment and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies and pos­si­bly to the pub­lic.

Air­lines and other manned air­craft op­er­a­tors al­ready sub­mit flight plans to the FAA in or­der to re­ceive air traf­fic con­trol ser­vices. In 2011, Congress gave op­er­a­tors the abil­ity to block pub­lic ac­cess to their plans if they wish.

JOHN LOCHER / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Drones such as this one, seen in Las Ve­gas in Jan­uary, should be re­quired to con­tin­u­ally trans­mit ID in­for­ma­tion so that au­thor­i­ties can track them, a Chi­nese drone-maker said Mon­day. The re­sult would be some­thing akin to car li­cense plates.

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