DJI's GEO to add live no-fly zones to drones

Your DJI drone might automatically decide you're in a no-fly zone with a new update, intended to curtail incursions into unfriendly airspace. GEO, or Geospatial Environment Online, will see the DJI Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 drone apps updated with real-time flight restriction data, effectively preventing only authorized users from getting too close to prisons, power stations, and other facilities.

Currently, DJI uses a so-called "No Fly Zone" system it developed in 2013, and which effectively blocks flight plans which would take its drones near places like airports.

GEO, however, will be far more capable – and more flexible. Not only will it have an evolving database of airports, prohibited and restricted airspace, national security sites, prisons, and power plants, among others, it'll be able to react to temporary flight restrictions.

That could be to keep drones out of areas where sports events or concerts are taking place, in places of natural disaster such as forest fires, or even where visiting heads of state are located.

Unlike the first-gen system, different levels of geofencing will be supported. "Warning" areas, for instance, will still allow for flight but give the operator a notice that they could be endangering wildlife, while "Authorization" areas can be unlocked, but only if the pilot authenticates themselves with a credit card number or cellphone number (though there'll be no actual charge levied).

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Finally, some areas – like Washington D.C. – will be permanently blocked to drones, as is currently the case.

According to DJI, this system should allow for the most flexibility, particularly when the same drone rig could be used by different pilots at different times, and in different locations.

Just as a drone can be used for intruding on privacy, mind, there's the potential for erring pilots to be caught with GEO. While DJI says it won't be storing payment information, the company used for verifying identities will, and could be made to turn that information over:

"In the event of an aviation safety or law enforcement investigation that compels us to disclose information, our verification partner may provide information about the credit card or mobile phone number used to verify the DJI account that unlocked an Authorization zone at the location, date, and time in question. This creates a path to accountability in the event of an incident without requiring burdensome up-front collection of personal information, and we feel strikes the right balance at this time" DJI

North America and Europe will be the first to get GEO, as a free update to the DJI app and the drone firmware expected to arrive in December.

Other regions will get updated data too, but not GEO until the precise information it relies upon is available in their geography.