Ford proposes low-tech solution for remote drone tracking

This week the Federal Aviation Administration held its annual drone symposium, with one of the topics being how to identify UAVs remotely. DJI’s solution was rather straightforward — have the drone broadcast its FAA ID and location over radio — and could be used by Air Traffic Control to show the precise location of any registered drone. But a surprise solution that is a lot less high-tech came from an unlikely source — automaker Ford. 

 Drone at night. Image via SmartDrone.com

Drone at night. Image via SmartDrone.com

Ford’s better idea is to have drones in flight flash their ID number in code using the required anti-collision lights. This code would be readable by a proprietary app that could be used by bystanders to report UAVs acting in an unsafe or annoying manner.  

Ford said that its method was able to reliably ID drones up to 80 feet away. This might not be sufficient to identify drones that are endangering aircraft or flying above legal altitude, but it could work for celebrities to report flying paparazzi. 

A white paper published by Ford (link to PDF) says that the range can be extended up to 1,600 feet using common DSLR lenses, and it’s quite easy to implement the solution on most drones with a simple firmware update. Using radio broadcasts would require standardization in the UAV industry and would likely add to the cost of most devices.