Car manufacturer Ford has announced a potential solution to the problem of identifying drones from a distance.
In the US, Ford is the sole representative of the automotive industry on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Rule-making Committee. Together with some of the biggest names in technology, transport, and aviation, the Committee is attempting to develop light-touch regulations that let the drone industry take off, without ignoring safety and security concerns.
Ford has proposed a solution to the longstanding problem of remote ID – namely, how to identify a drone that’s 50 or 500 metres away when its registration details are inscribed in tiny writing on its body.
Only once a remote ID system is in place can regulators safely integrate drones into the airspace, and organisations can start to think about harnessing the power of beyond-line-of-sight flights.
Ford’s light solution
Ford’s solution combines the 10-digit registration number that each pilot is given by the FAA, with anti-collision lights and a camera-based software application.
The result is a system that uses the lights to broadcast the drone’s 10-digit code in an ASCII-encoded binary signal at a baud rate. This miniature light show can be decoded using algorithms built with Google TensorFlow.
The accompanying app can run on a smartphone, potentially meaning the public would have the power to record, report, and help identify misbehaving drones.
According to Ford, “preliminary in-field tests show the system can consistently and accurately identify drones operating within 80 feet of an observer.”
The entire submission that Ford handed over to the FAA can be found in a whitepaper: A Zero-Cost Solution for Remote Identification and Tracking of sUAS in Low Altitude Flights.
Internet of Business says
The idea of using lights to transmit registration data is certainly a promising and interesting one. However, Ford’s assertion that the system is “zero cost” and “requires little to no modification of existing models” is disingenuous.
For starters, anti-collision lighting kits don’t come cheap. Because night flights remain all but banned without express permission from aviation authorities, they are not the kind of equipment that the majority of pilots – commercial or recreational – have at their disposal.
These lighting solutions also tend to be bulky, so there’s also a cost to performance issue to consider. But if the system was able to harness existing lights built into drones, that would be a different story.
Aside from the practicalities, Ford’s system offers an interesting approach to interactions between drones and the general public. On the one hand, it could improve pilot accountability by giving people the ability to use their smartphones to report rogue operators. But on the other, it could add to drone paranoia – a topic that turns up over 400,000 links on Google.
Ford’s intention is that its proposal will “ensure the safe and responsible use of drones in US airspace, while maintaining the bandwidth necessary for innovation.” However, it’s not clear how encouraging a culture of mass reporting would see this come to fruition.
Currently, DJI’s Aeroscope solution appears to trump Ford’s in terms of subtlety and effectiveness. It uses the existing, in-built command-and-control link between the remote and the drone to broadcast ID and telemetry data to nearby authorities.
By tracking a drone’s movements as well as identifying who it belongs to, Aeroscope offers more situational awareness.
Admittedly, it requires hardware on the ground to receive and decode that information. But that puts the costs on the side of the relevant authorities, and is balanced by the fact that DJI drones have already received patches to transmit the necessary data automatically.