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A uAvionix ADS-B transponder that weighs but 50 grams.

Slowly, drones are filling up the skies as more and more people realize their next camera doesn’t need to be tied to the ground. For those in industries that can utilize the potential of small autonomous aircraft, it’s an exciting time – with an untold number of applications on the horizon.

However, for those not familiar with drone technology, it’s a period of transition that can also be seen as frightening. Some worry about the possibility of a mid-air collision (even though one has yet to occur between a consumer drone and a civilian manned aircraft). For others, even the word “drone” can be unsettling, given its association with large military aircraft.

What do current drone pilots know that the general public does not?

SAFETY FIRST

Well, there are currently a number of safety measures built into most off-the-shelf drones, and even more in specialized and higher-end aircraft. DJI, the leading manufacturer of consumer aircraft, has developed a number of systems designed with safety in mind, most notably their GEO and obstacle avoidance systems.

Image: DJI
DJI software prevents drones from flying where they shouldn’t

However, DJI’s most recently announced safety system is yet another giant step forward, utilizing technology long proven in the world of manned aviation.  

ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) is for the first time available on an off-the-shelf aircraft. DJI’s Matrice 200 series aircraft will come with an ADS-B receiver, allowing an operator to be aware of other ADS-B equipped aircraft (manned or unmanned) in nearby airspace.

THE COMING AIRSPACE INTEGRATION

It’s a significant step toward the eventual “integration” of the National Airspace System (NAS), when manned and unmanned craft will safely share common chunks of the sky.

“ADS-B increases safety and efficiency to help meet the increasing air traffic predicted in coming years,” says Bobby Nichols, FAA Surveillance Services Group Manager.

In fact, all manned aircraft will be required to carry an ADS-B transponder by the year 2020 in the United States, regardless of the airspace in which they are flying.

Image: Ayla Aviation Academy
Image: Ayla Aviation Academy

For civilian drones, however, the adoption of ADS-B is still a brand-new thing.

DJI collaborated with uAvionix Corporation, a manufacturer of drone safety technology. With uAvionix’s hardware (Ping sensors, the smallest ADS-B hardware available) being incorporated into DJI’s software environment, the aircraft can now be controlled by software developers in ways which minimize possible collisions. When widespread adoption is seen, we should expect to see multiple types of aircrafts flying simultaneously in the same airspace with minimal risk.

uAvionix image of how its ADS-B system provides situational awareness of airspace
uAvionix image of how its ADS-B system provides situational awareness of airspace

Much like driverless cars will increase safety and reduce accidents, so too will ADS-B or other similar systems dramatically improve safety in the air. If DJI were to include uAvionix’s Ping sensors in all upcoming aircraft, it would be a huge step forward. 

BOLD MOVE

Arguably, DJI has taken a an important lead here – and one that other consumer and industrial drone manufacturers will hopefully follow. As the industry continues to grow, building high-quality safety features into aircraft will help ensure not only safer skies, but also reasonable regulations.

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