DJI, the most well known brand in the drone industry, is catching a lot of heat and it’s forcing them to make some rapid changes.
Just consider the following:
On Friday China-based DJI got word that the U.S. Army will stop using the company’s products due to cybersecurity-related concerns. Army units were ordered to remove batteries and memory storage devices and uninstall any DJI software from their aircraft. The company responded with dismay, saying that it eagerly awaited conversations with Army leaders to learn more about their concerns. Other U.S. government agencies have taken similar actions, and both the Department of Energy and Department of the Interior began quietly removing DJI drones from their aviation departments last year.
The Army decision came after U.S. Air Force General Mike Holmes, who runs Air Combat Command, cited two incidents involving small drones invading airspace at ACC bases in early July. The general complained that he was legally powerless to prevent such overflights, and that he wanted authorization to shoot them down.
On Monday, he got his wish.
During a Pentagon press conference, Navy Captain Jeff Davis announced that the Department of Defense is now authorizing the U.S. military to shoot down any UAVs deemed to be a threat.
Yes, now, under the right circumstances the DoD has carte blanche to the US military when it comes to shooting down consumer drones. However, the fact that DJI logged data is a double edged sword; on the positive side, Wayne Reimer is happy that flight logs were available to prove his innocence in a drone related case of mistaken identity.
“Due diligence” is right up there with “flossing” in its unsexy nature, but it’s a lot more appealing when faced with accusations of interfering with a police helicopter.
Wayne Reimer was flying his DJI Mavic Pro in Calgary in late July when he spotted a police helicopter about two kilometres away. To be cautious, he landed his UAV.
But as he was packing up his equipment, two police officers arrived in a cruiser and informed Reimer he was “in ‘big trouble’ for ‘interfering with the police helicopter’,” Reimer wrote in a post on the Special Flight Operations Certificate Canada Facebook group.
Reimer denied the accusation. And he had proof.
Fortunately, Reimer had been using the DJI GO 4 app, which recorded every detail of his flight. He was able to use the telemetry data to prove that his UAV hadn’t been even remotely close to the police helicopter.
In response to what I believe is the the negative publicity and public statement from the US military, DJI has announced “local data mode”
DJI is working on a “local data mode” for its apps that prevents any data from being sent to or received from the internet. The feature will be welcomed by many, but it’s hard not to attribute the timing and urgency of the announcement to the recent ban of DJI gear by the U.S. Army over unspecified “cyber vulnerabilities.”
“We are creating local data mode to address the needs of our enterprise customers, including public and private organizations that are using DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world,” said Brendan Schulman, the company’s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, in a press release. The new feature should arrive before the end of September.
The Army memo, first published at Small UAS News and dated August 2, said that “due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the U.S. Army halt use of all DJI products.”
It’s not clear what these vulnerabilities actually are, or whether the mere possibility of sensitive information being transmitted was enough to spook someone at HQ.
Will “local data mode” be enough for the US military or was a potential weakness exposed that another drone manufacturer may be able to capitalize on to dethrone DJI? In my opinion, only time will tell.