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article imageFAA considering an electronic license plate for drones

By Karen Graham     Jul 4, 2017 in Technology
Drones, both commercial and non-commercial, have taken over the airways in the U.S., so much so that for safety reasons, the Federal Aviation Administration convened a committee last week to discuss the best way to regulate drone traffic.
The committee included representatives from Amazon, Ford, and the New York Police Department, and at that first meeting, one of the issues discussed was the problem of identifying registered drones from the ground because ID numbers are invisible while the UAV is airborne.
One of the first roadblocks to being able to remotely identify drones is the fact that not all drones weighing over a half-pound are registered. It would be no problem to use this sort of identification on commercial drones, but a federal court ruled the FAA’s registration rules for non-commercial drones was in violation of a law passed by Congress in 2012.
A sign prohibiting drones is seen amid preparations for the arrival of visitors and delegates for th...
A sign prohibiting drones is seen amid preparations for the arrival of visitors and delegates for the Republican National Convention on July 16, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio
Dominick Reuter, AFP
That 2012 law, called the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, prohibited the FAA from making any rules governing the operation of model aircraft. So, basically, today, anyone operating a non-commercial UAV for fun does not have to register the drone with the FAA.
There are two sides to this issue, and the big one is the resulting invasion of privacy if every drone in the country was to be remotely identified, simply because many drones are actually operated for recreational purposes. However, UAVs are also operated for criminal purposes and there are ways of getting around "no-fly zones" if you have the right software, according to Engadget.
As more and more small radio-controlled drones appear in American skies  so do worries that someday ...
As more and more small radio-controlled drones appear in American skies, so do worries that someday, one might bump into a full-sized airplane -- possibly with grim results
Martin Bernetti, AFP/File
Off-the-shelf drones have been used to smuggle drugs and cell phones over prison walls. The Border Patrol has documented drones being used to fly drugs into the U.S. on our Southern border with Mexico. And there is the very real threat of someone using a drone to carry explosives, so these are all good reasons why a remote electronic tracking platform is needed.
In January 2016, EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) submitted a proposal detailing the need for some sort of remote electronic identification of UAVs. The proposal made clear that "Broadcasting the drone registration number will allow the public to monitor the physical location of a drone and report any conduct that poses a risk to public safety or personal privacy."
A surveillance drone used in London during the Olympics
A surveillance drone used in London during the Olympics
EPIC's proposal also stressed, "It is not the personal information of the drone registrant that should be readily available to the public, but the technical capabilities of the registered drone."
In March this year, DJI, the world's largest consumer drone maker submitted a proposal for an "electronic identification framework," a sort of electronic license plate, for all drones that would give authorities in the U.S. information about the owner when necessary. DJI noted that almost all drones already have radio technology on board to allow the transmission of location and registration numbers.
The FAA committee is scheduled to meet again on July 18. And while remote ID for drones is still in the early stages of discussion, formal proposals on the issue of drone identification need to be submitted by September 30.
More about Uav, unmanned drones, FAA, electronic identification, Safety issues
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