Can drones have license plates similar to cars? Well, to begin with, a small sized license plate mounted on a flying drone at an altitude of several feet can be hard to read from the ground.As a matter of fact, the drone industry has been calling out for some way of remote identification – a means to electronically identify a drone from the ground.
In December, three companies collaborated to prove a system of electronically identifying drones flying above.
The drone division of X, the company formerly known as Google, is called as Project Wing. It joined hands with Kittyhawk and AirMap joined hands at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California on December 17, 2018 to test a system of identifying drones that share their flight data through the LTR network.
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The three companies flew their drones for different purposes and each of the drone pilots successfully identified the drones flying in the vicinity.An open source program was utilized to accomplish this task with an aim to allow third parties to recognize drones near them called as InterUSS developed by Project Wing.
The concept behind Inter USS is:
1. Your drone is connected to software from one of the three Remote ID service providers such as Kittyhawk or AirMap
2. When a drone is spotted by a certain entity, they can resort to an app that interfaces with the InterUSS platform
3. That entity will be able to identify the operator near them and a brief summary of what task is being carried out if they are Wing or an operator using Kittyhawk or AirMap.
Each of the three companies shared their telemetry data using their native platforms during the flights.
Here is an exclusive video footage provided by Kittyhawk.The flight sight was near San Francisco International Airport and was therefore controlled Class B airspace. That meant that the operators had to use Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) which is yet another FAA development that enables drone pilots to get immediate permission to fly in restricted airspace.
The Future of Remote ID
FAA has reiterated its increased focus on building up Remote ID. A Request for Information (RFI) was put up by the federal agency in December, 2018 around remote identification, soliciting private companies to participate in research and ultimately demonstrations of Remote ID for drones at work. RFIs are a conventional practice in the FAA as they ask private companies or academia to submit their own information, research and data on different topics.
The FAA said that it was planning to select up to 8 companies to participate in its Remote ID test project.
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But the three market leaders have already proved that this system works. Kittyhawk founder, Josh Ziering, confirmed that his company had plans to participate in the RFI.He believes that it was always going to be crucial to portray that in production and to demonstrate that the private industry was acting as pioneers.
The test results achieved in December along with the anticipated progress following the FAA’s RFi, could be the way forward for wider usage of drones across the U.S.
Drone operations have been limited for numerous reasons such as safety, interference with other aircrafts etc. But the knowledge of drones operating in the air, their operators and their destination can get rid of major bottlenecks in why drone applications such as drone delivery have not been as successful as expected.
Is InterUSS the way forward?
A number of industry leaders have reiterated support for some kind of solution similar to the InterUSS project that was showcased in December.Ziering says that interoperability is reliant on an open source software tool which can further pave the way for transparency that prevents undesired actors from exploiting power consolidation when a single stakeholder is in charge of a single software tool. He is of the view that creation of a certain level of security proprietary based software solutions would be difficult to meet due to the ability of multiple actors to analyze, partner and work on solutions without having to incur costs in terms of office politicits, bureaucracies and shipping schedules.
Despite being developed by Google’s Project Wing, a software solution such as Inter USS would be funded and controlled by partnering private companies.Having said that, other manufacturers such as DJI have also come up with their own drone identification systems; thereby demonstrating a certain degree of disagreement with the testing carried out in San Bruno.DJI has opposed the plan that endeavors to keep track of the location of drones in real time. According to their statement published in 2017, DJI is of the view that such a system would be immensely complicated to formulate and would expose confidential information of drone operators.
According to DJI’s plans, each machine will transmit its location along with its registration number or other such identification code in system that could be built using affordable radio gear that is already integrated in the drones and that could be adopted by all manufacturers. The law enforcement agencies could then identify those transmitted signals. However, in contrast to the project showcased by Google in December, DJI has suggested that the transmitted information should only be accessible to authorities. Here is the link to DJI’s whitepaper.
A network centric approach is favored in the DJI’s whitepaper and is put forth as an Orwellian model that furnishes more information than required to people who do not need it and exposes confidential business information in the process.uAvionix is a company on the committee that develops GPS receivers, ADS-B receivers and transceivers and Mode A/C/S transponders also came up with a whitepaper. The company has suggested that the drone has an integrated transmitter and the law enforcement apparatus would have a receiver working along with an app to display identification data.
But the Inter USS approach has demonstrated that probably a networks based system is not as complicated as one would think.Ziering says that no special hardware is required when it comes to network based remote identification. It enables all stakeholders to consume and populate the data and with evolving mobile telecommunication technologies such as LTE and 5G in pipeline, it could be accessed by millions of people across the globe with minimum overheads.