Does GeoFencing Work? No.

drone mapThe White House drone crash stimulated a number of responses from all over the unmanned aircraft world. From the President of the United States demanding new regulations to protect the public from the menace of drones, to the Chinese manufacturer DJI announcing new firmware that limits their UAVs, every leader in the field had some reaction. We of course heard from the loud mouths decrying the FAA tardiness for regulation as the mechanism that led directly to the crash, and likewise we heard from the concerned public who want drone flights limited to nothing, nowhere, and nobody. Mostly, though, the case for geofencing was being made, and sensible though it may seem, it doesn;t quite offer the promising respite from intrusion that proponents would have us believe.

Geofencing, for those that don’t know, allows a digitized barrier to be built on GPS coordinates or relative positional coordinates. For GPS coordinates, the Geofence relates to defined positioned in space – these are static; they do not move. The relative Geofencing relates to area or distances corresponding to the drone itself, and the drone’s position to others. Often this is called tethering because the most common use is, don’t go beyond X feet or higher then Y Feet, from the pilot — the is dynamic, it changes — much like a dog on a leash.

The problem of airspace intrusion or unsafe conditions that many proponents in the UA field claim Geofencing helps solve, is actually much greater than it seems. Geofencing is only reliable in conditions where full communications to either a GPS satellite, a remote control operator, or both, are maintained. So, this technology is only reliable in the conditions where UAVs are LEAST likely to cause a problem. Further more, the software required to delineate an “off-limits” area or height is easily accessible and manipulated.

Take for example the latest DJI firmware update, which is designed to prevent their Inspiration or Phantom series drones from heading into Washington D.C. areas, or other areas, as well as limiting the height of UAS from ground level. Only one week after the incident, and less than 4 days after DJI’s update announcement, is announcing a hacked version, for free, via the direct download and installation.As you might think, these changes of


fer the following alteration to the DJI approved flight control application:

Care to take your Phantom Vision 2 to the next level? This modified version of the Official Vision App for Android for the Phantom Vision 2 and Vision 2 Plus will add the
following features:
Removed 500m distance limit
User selectable speeds for Fast, Medium and Slow (in meters per second only). 15 m/s is the maximum speed for GPS/Ground Station mode, but putting in a larger number will not result in anything bad, it just will top out at 15 m/s. Adjustable in Settings.
User selectable stay time at each way point (when not using bank & turn feature)
Ability to “Bank & Turn” at way points for much faster missions. Adjustable in Settings. Do not use for precision flying as it requires a larger turn radius and has loose way point accuracy depending on speed and proximity to nearby way points.
Ability to set default height for way points. Adjustable in Settings.
Use phone’s GPS as Phantom’s home point. Allows you to start placing way points before connecting to the Phantom for easier mission planning.Adjustable in Settings.
No screen time out on Ground Station view
Re-added Yaw Control with Phone/Tablet’s accelerometer (ability to turn Phantom left or right by tilting your device, in addition to pitching the camera up and down)
Enlarged radar icon for better visibility
Changed satellite indicator colors to red/green instead of grey/blue for better visibility (in camera view only

This download is not a malicious hack meant to bring mass hysteria. Clearly, this was developed to get around the manufacturer imposed restrictions that have come as greater scrutiny is paid to DJI and the hobbyist world in general. Geofencing is not the answer, if the controls needed to manage it are so easily bypassed. We cannot rely on Geofencing to solve the problem of mass integration, though well intended use of it may help offset some safety issues. While Geofencing is a promising technology, it has a very long way to go before being seeing as the solution to sUAS integration into the NAS.


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