“We can make this information available to drone operators in near real-time.”
To address the growing problem of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) impeding wildland firefighting efforts, the U.S. Department of the Interior and industry partners activated a prototype warning system that provides real-time alerts and geofencing alarms to prevent drone pilots from interfering with
“This pilot project makes initial wildfire location data publicly available to commercial mapping providers that support UAS operations, alerting drone pilots before they enter air space over an active wildland fire,” said Mark Bathrick, the director of Interior’s Office of Aviation Services.
“No responsible drone operator wants to endanger the lives of the men and women who work to protect them and we believe this program, which uses the global positioning system to create a virtual barrier, will move us one step closer to eliminating this problem for wildfire managers.”
The Department of the Interior developed the system with DJI, the largest manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States, and AirMap and Skyward, leading providers of airspace intelligence and navigational services to unmanned aircraft. AirMap and Skyward now obtain wildfire information directly from Interior’s Integrated Reporting Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) program, and immediately transmit it to drone pilots through AirMap’s iOS and web apps, AirMap’s API, and the GEO geofencing system included in the DJI GO flight
Interior, working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Forest Service, adopted a three prong-approach to the issue—to enhance public awareness, establish notification protocols, and enforce penalties when violations occur. The agencies implemented the “If You Fly; We Can’t” and “B4UFly” public awareness campaigns. Wildland firefighting organizations adopted protocols for notification to incident commanders and law enforcement, allowing officials to make quick decisions to keep firefighters and communities safe.
“Now, thanks to the wildland fire reporting data provided by Interior and with great partners like AirMap, Skyward and DJI who volunteered to prototype this program for us, we can make this information available to drone operators in near real-time,” said Bathrick.
The warning system is similar to current efforts that map drone-sensitive locations (e.g. prisons, nuclear power plants, etc.). Drone manufacturers now have the ability to automatically ‘geo-fence’ wildfire areas from entrance by the unmanned aircraft system they build and sell. Experience and data obtained from this year’s prototype will be used to inform a full public and industry release planned for the 2017 fire season. In the future, the system will have the capability to prevent drones from operating in restricted airspace once they reach a geofence perimeter.
This is one of a number of high-profile initiatives announced at the White House Drone Workshop in August 2016. Specific to the Department of Interior, the press release noted:
“A broad range of actions by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to use UAS to support search and rescue operations, to augment manned aircraft operations, and improve government processes around technological adoption.”
We will be keeping an eye out for any comments about lessons learned and how this will be moving forward. Considering the risks to lives and the economic costs of wildfires, it is hard not to applaud their efforts and hope that they have an impact. As I wrote a few weeks before the DOI press release was published in late July, between climate change and drone proliferation this is a very real problem that is only going to get worse.
If you are wondering, I am personally very skeptical because this solution depends on people voluntarily logging on and updating their DJI GO database. As someone who lives in the West, I can assure you that it’s not hard to tell if there is a wildfire. When the only hotspot you can connect to is the one you’re standing on, it’s not going to happen. And as we saw again in North Carolina (10/16), people will fly despite repeated public announcements grounding all civilian drones.
I am always struck by the forbearance of government agencies who are inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt and excuse their behavior by saying that they are uninformed. In my book, those same people are selfish and stupid. Eventually and unfortunately, someone will get hurt and the gloves will come off.
UPDATE DJI is now unlocking the entire NAS. (10/13/16)
I had the idea that maybe I could place a latitude, longitude point in the center of the country and get DJI to unlock a radius big enough that all no fly zones nationally would be removed for a period of 1 year. I went ahead and emailed firstname.lastname@example.org back and requested that they unlock 2500km radius from a point google told me was the center of the country.
And it worked!
We are now unlocked from all DJI no fly zones nationally! As a bonus DJI has now added unlimit functionality to the normal GO app. So you no longer need to get a and download a special app through DJI. Once they approved my unlock I simply went into my go app. Selected my unlimit menu and tapped my “license” then slid the slider to unlock and the no fly zone near me disappeared.