Are DJI drones spying for China

DJI camera drones are likely spying on the United States for China. At least, that’s what a newly uncovered US government memo claims. DJI has responded by calling the allegations “insane.”

Fast Company reports that the unclassified memo was issued back in August by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles.

In the memo, the ICE agent writes that he or she “assesses with moderate confidence that Chinese-based company DJI Science and Technology is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

The memo further “assesses with high confidence the company is selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.”

The list of sensitive data being gathered by DJI is extensive, the agent claims:

The UAS operate on two Android smartphone applications called DJI GO and Sky Pixels that automatically tag GPS imagery and locations, register facial recognition data even when the system is off, and access users’ phone data. Additionally, the applications capture user identification, e-mail addresses, full names, phone numbers, images, videos, and computer credentials. Much of the information collected includes proprietary and sensitive critical infrastructure data, such as detailed imagery of power control panels, security measures for critical infrastructure sites, or materials used in bridge construction.

What’s more, the agent says the info collected could be used to launch an attack against the US, writing with “high confidence” that “the critical infrastructure and law enforcement entities using DJI systems are collecting sensitive intelligence that the Chinese government could use to conduct physical or cyber attacks against the United States and its population.”

These conclusions were made after the agent looked into “information derived from open source reporting and a reliable source within the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry with first and secondhand access.”

Here’s the full memo:

In an email to Fast Company, DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg called the memo “utterly insane.” After the memo was published on the Internet, DJI also quickly published a statement on its website refuting the allegations and saying that the memo was “based on clearly false and misleading claims from an unidentified source.

“[T]he allegations in the bulletin are so profoundly wrong as a factual matter that ICE should consider withdrawing it.”

Many of the allegations in the ICE report are obviously false. The claims that DJI systems can register facial recognition data even while powered off, that Parrot and Yuneec have stopped manufacturing competitive products, and that DJI products have substantial price differentials between the U.S. and China can be easily disproven with a basic knowledge of technology and the drone industry, or even a simple internet search.

DJI has also asked ICE to look into whether the agent may have “had a competitive or improper motive to interfere with DJI’s legitimate business by making false allegations about DJI.”

DJI, based in Shenzhen, China, is a dominant force globally in the camera drone industry — DJI reportedly owns a 70%+ market share of all non-hobbyist drones in the US, according to a recent survey. But the company has been the subject of cybersecurity scrutiny as of late.

In August, the US Army abruptly ended its use of DJI products, citing cyber vulnerabilities. DJI responded less than 2 months later by launching a Local Data privacy mode that allows drones to fly completely offline.

“DJI has built its reputation on developing the best products for consumer and professional drone users across a wide variety of fields, including those who fly sensitive missions and need strong data security,” DJI concludes in its statement. “We will continue working to provide our customers the security they require.”

(via Fast Company via DPReview)

Pilots call for early legislation on drones

Pilots union BALPA has welcomed the UK Government’s decision to take action to reduce the risk of drones colliding with aircraft, but says it needs to move fast.

The Government has promised to introduce a drone registration and regulation package, along with greater police powers to deal with users who break the law.

BALPA, which has also called for no-fly zones and geofencing around airports, said these are also now very much on the agenda.

BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “BALPA recognised the potential of drone technology long ago. But it soon became clear that without the right rules and regulations in place to enable them to share airspace safely, these devices could pose a huge threat to commercial aircraft.

“This is evidenced by the sharp rise in reported near misses with drones last year, up from 29 to 71. And we have exceeded that already this year with the UK Airprox Board already noting 81 reported near misses in 2017 so far.

“These proposals are a step towards the safe integration of drones, but until the new rules are in place the threat of a serious collision remains.

“It would be a tragedy if such an incident were to occur and lives were lost while we await these measures.

“That’s why BALPA continues to push for this programme of legislation to be adopted quickly; pilots would prefer to see it implemented in 2018 rather than at a later date.”

New law for safety awareness tests for all drone users

Drone users in the UK may have to take safety awareness tests under legislation planned by the government.
Drones weighing more than 250g could also be banned from flying near airports, or above 400 ft, in a crackdown on unsafe flying.
Police will also be given new powers to seize and ground drones which may have been used in criminal activity.
The bill has been welcomed by the pilots’ union, which has warned of near misses involving drones and aircraft.
Balpa said there had been 81 incidents so far this year – up from 71 in 2016 and 29 in 2015.
The union’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “These proposals are a step towards the safe integration of drones, but until the new rules are in place the threat of a serious collision remains.”
In July a drone flew directly over the wing of a large passenger jet as it came into land at London’s Gatwick Airport, which a report said had put 130 lives at risk.
Drones scatter mosquitoes to fight diseases
The flying drones that can scan packages night and day
Drone detects heartbeat and breathing rates
The proposed bill – to be published in spring 2018 – would ensure that owners of drones weighing more than 250g would need to register and sit a test.
Drone pilot and trainer Elliott Corke, director of HexCam, said most recreationally and commercially-used drones in use weighed more than 250g, apart from the cheap toy versions.
He told BBC News that many new users were surprised by how many rules around drone usage already exist, under the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code.
He said there was a “degree of frustration” however that the rules were not being enforced effectively, allowing criminal activity to take place. domain for sale £800

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Drone strikes commercial jet in Canada

A drone had a direct hit with a commercial plane as it came in to land at Quebec’s Jean Lesage International Airport, Canada’s transport minister Marc Garneau said.

There were no injuries and the small Skyjet plane landed safely shortly after.

The UAV collision took place about 3km from the airport and at a height of about 450km, which is within the exclusion zones surrounding the nation’s airports.

Under Canadian law, drones are forbidden to fly within 5.5km of an airport or landing strip.

“Although the vast majority of drone operators fly responsibly, it was our concern for incidents like this that prompted me to take action and issue interim safety measures restricting where recreational drones could be flown,” Garneau said.

“This is the first time a drone has hit a commercial aircraft in Canada and I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely.”

The small plane was carrying six passengers and two crew and was struck on one of its wings.

“This should not have happened, that drone should not have been there,” Garneau said, adding it could have been ‘catastrophic’ if it had hit the cockpit or an engine.

Although this is the first direct hit, Garneau said there have been 131 drone incidents so far this year ‘of aviation safety concern.’

The first autonomous drone delivery network will fly above Switzerland next month

Logistics company Matternet has announced a permanent autonomous drone network in Switzerland that will now see lab samples like blood tests and other diagnostics flown between hospital facilities, clinics, and labs. The first delivery network will be operational from next month, with several more to be introduced in the next year. Matternet says medical items can be delivered to hospitals within 30 minutes.
Matternet, based in Menlo Park, California, was granted authorization to operate its drones over densely populated areas in Switzerland in March and says that approval was a world first. Today, the company unveiled a Matternet Station; a kind of white, futuristic looking postbox with a footprint measuring about two square meters, that can be installed on rooftops or on the ground to send and receive packages by drone.
The drone network is part of a partnership with Swiss Post, and is significant because it’s the first operational drone network flying in dense urban areas that’s not a pilot run or in testing. Last month, Zipline announced plans to operate its blood delivering service by drone in Tanzania by early next year as well. A pair of hospitals in Lugano in Switzerland had previously tested Matternet drone flights to deliver lab samples. Matternet plans to establish a regular service starting in early 2018.
“These types of diagnostics that need to be transported are urgent in nature and they are on demand,” Andreas Raptopoulos co-founder and CEO of Matternet told The Verge. “They have to wait for a courier, sometimes they get taxis to do this type of thing — and when you have a system like this, that is autonomous and reliable, it completely transforms operations.”
Users operate the system via an app to create shipment details. Items are placed into a compartment box in the station before being loaded into a drone for delivery. Currently the drones can hold up to 2kg (4.4 pounds). Packages are then flown to another Matternet station, where receivers can obtain their package by scanning a QR code.

Anti-Drone Systems ; challenges and solutions

In 2013, a small quadcopter flew close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was attending an outdoor political meeting. A year later an inebriated federal agent crashed his Phantom in the White House perimeter. Fortunately, the drone did not damage Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden, but following this event DJI implemented the no-fly zone feature on its entry-level drones. However, this measure is not completely effective to prevent rogue flights and authorities are looking for solutions to counter drones from flying in restricted areas. Let’s review the current anti-drone solutions and challenges associated with neutralizing a small UAVs.
According to the FAA, in 2016 people have registered 670,000 drones in the USA and the federal administration forecasts that the hobbyist fleet will likely more than triple in size over the next 5 years, from 1.1 million units in 2016 to over 3.5 million units by 2021. The high scenario may reach 4.5 million units. Drones make headlines every week for flying near airports, dropping packages over prisons, smuggling drugs across the borders, or disrupting the flights of emergency service helicopters. There are several technologies to counter drones but each have strengths and weaknesses.

Detection and Identification
The first challenge is to detect and identify the threat. The difference between detection and identification is related to the level of accuracy and certainty. Detection is the ability to find and alert the presence of a threat. Identification is the capacity to classify the nature of the threat. For instance, the motion detection sensor of a home security system can detect a movement coming from a pet, a flapping window, or a person. Beyond that initial detection phase, the owner will need to check the security camera to identify the nature of the alarm: is this a cat or an intruder?

Below are the main detection and identification technologies.

Optical and Infrared
A camera scans the area to detect and identify a potential drone. The monitoring can be done on the visible or infrared spectrum. The issue is that drones are small and difficult to see. They also have a limited heat signature compared to traditional aircraft with combustion engines. These type of sensors are not very suitable for the detection phase. Imagine having to scan the sky around you with a 600mm lens to find a tiny drone. But the main limitation with the optical solution is the impossibility to see at night or through clouds and fog. The infrared thermal imaging performs better but cannot completely punch through a dense layer of clouds.

Drones emit a distinctive buzzing sound that can be picked up by sensitive microphones in order to give an estimated direction and distance of the drone. Military forces already use acoustic detection systems to locate snipers. However, acoustic sensors are not able to precisely identify threats and only work at a limited range of a few hundred feet. Moreover, noisy backgrounds (e.g., airport, city downtown), or drone tuning (changing the stock propellers) will limit the detection capability.

Electronic Support Measures
This technology consists of scanning and “listening” to the frequencies used by drones to calculate their position. These systems are usually complex and not suitable for direct identification even though the radio signature of most consumer drones such as DJI can be entered in the system library for classification. Moreover, as a passive detection system they can only detect the radio signal emitted by a target but some drones are programed to fly autonomously by following GPS coordinates without sending any signal back to the operator. If the drone does not emit signals, there is nothing to detect.

A variant of this technology consists of simply receiving the signal sent from the most popular consumer drones (mostly DJI) to warn the operator that a drone is flying in the area. The telemetry data can be intercepted to give additional information (GPS location, etc.). But these solutions do not work with homemade and pre-programed drones.

The Radio Detection and Ranging technology is the best candidate for drone detection. Most current systems are based on this technology. It’s been proven on the field for decades and can be adapted to detect drones. Contrary to common belief, drones can be seen on radars, but not the traditional ones. The key is to select the right frequency, gain, and sensitivity to detect the drone. For instance, the armed forces use radar to detect objects as small as mortar shells.

However, drones are made out of low reflectivity materials such as the plastic frame of the DJI Phantom. The challenge of radar drone detection lies in selectivity and sensitivity. Lower the sensitivity of a radar and the operator will pick up birds as well. Fortunately, computer algorithms can discriminate the threats by analyzing the patterns of the flight trajectory. A pigeon and a Mavic do not fly the same way.

Usually these different technologies are combined to offer detection and identification capabilities. Radar is well suited for detection while optical and infrared imaging give the operator a direct view of the object in order to confirm or dismiss the threat.

Mini drones such as the DJI Spark represent a challenge for the detection and identification systems due to their small size.

Neutralization: Destruction Versus Jamming
Once a drone has been identified, the authority can decide to intercept and destroy the drone or jam its radio signal. The drone’s destruction can be performed via firearms over short range from the ground or inflight from a helicopter. Longer reach requires missile and laser but both solutions are expensive and not ideal in the vicinity of an airport. New technologies are currently being developed such as ultrasound waves that could disrupt the onboard gyroscopes. Electromagnetic pulse and high-energy microwaves constitute potential candidates to the anti-drone race. However, all these solutions can be problematic in urban environments because intercepted drones tend fall out of the sky. Some police forces have conducted tests with birds of prey and anti-drone nets to capture drones in flight.

Jamming or hacking is an elegant solution because most consumer drones rely on GPS and radio links for navigation. Their communication protocols are relatively simple and not encrypted. Cut the link and the drone will automatically initiate a landing procedure as a safety measure. That is the principle of operation of so-called “anti-drone guns”: point the gun at a drone and blast a powerful signal over the most common frequencies such as 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Blinded by the gun, the drone will assume that it lost connection from the pilot and initiate the return to home procedure. Add a GPS jammer to the mix and the drone will lose track of its position, drift away, or land immediately depending on its emergency protocol. Simply put, the anti-drone guns are just (overpriced) multi-band radio transmitters equipped with high gain directional antennas.

Unfortunately, jamming is not operative against autonomous drones which follow pre-programmed routes via GPS waypoints (e.g., Pixhawk). Moreover, many custom-made drones can be fitted with different radio frequencies (72 Mhz, 433 MHz, 800/900 MHz, 1.2/1.3 GHz, etc.) to escape the scope of the drone guns. Jamming the GPS can be effective unless the drone is equipped with an inertial navigation system which allows the aircraft to navigate autonomously without the help external signals.

The Legal Issues
The jamming procedure is not exempt of problems due to its poor selectivity. Jamming also affects legitimate systems in the area as the FAA noted on October 2016 in a letter sent to airports:

Unauthorized UAS detection and counter measure deployments can create a host of problems, such as electromagnetic and Radio Frequency (RF) interference affecting safety of flight and air traffic management issues.

Indeed the airports rely on a complex suite of navigation instruments (ILS, DME, VOR, GPS), weather radar, traffic monitoring systems (Transponder, TCAS, ADB-S), and communication systems to function properly. The FAA letter also said: “Additionally, current law may impose barriers to the evaluation and deployment of certain unmanned aircraft detection and mitigation technical capabilities by most federal agencies, as well as state and local entities and private individuals.”

On this matter, I invite the readers to consult the excellent blog of Attorney Jonathan Rupprecht who provides a constant source of valuable information regarding the legal aspects of the drone world. In summary, Rupprecht describes the existence of a whole boby of regulations at the federal and local level that prevent or strictly regulate the jamming operation.

For instance:

The Communications Act of 1934 “requires persons operating or using radio transmitters to be licensed or authorized under the Commission’s rules.” (47 U.S.C. § 301)
The 47 C.F.R. Section 2.803 of the FCC “prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of these devices within the United States.”
The U.S. criminal code (18 U.S.C. Section 1362) also “prohibits willful or malicious interference to U.S. government communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both.” This section could be applied to the GPS jammers.
Conclusion: The Level of Threat Versus Fear-Mongering
Most anti-drone systems combine several technologies such as radar for detection and optical camera for identification. Furthermore, many systems only work on the mainstream consumer drones and are totally ineffective against homemade platforms that fall out the range of traditional radio frequency (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz) and guidance systems (direct link versus autonomous flight). Unfortunately, building a custom drone is relatively easy and does not require advanced technical knowledge. Legally, the Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA) in December 2016 which gives authority to the Secretary of Defense to implement anti-drone measures to protect strategic military locations.

But let’s take a break and look at the big picture. So far, there’s been only minor incidents despite the millions of machines flying all over the world. With their limited payload and battery endurance, drones are not a good vector for terrorist attacks. Sadly, as we recently saw in Europe, trucks or assault rifles are much more effective tools for mass killing. Of course, statistics dictate that one day a drone will collide with a plane and one day a delivery drone will crash on a house. But is that the main concern here? Does the drone industry deserve this constant level of bashing fueled by cynical politicians and fear-mongering media always prone to launch “breaking news” out of a non-event? How many articles have I read about a supposed collision between a drone and an airplane when in the end nothing happened?

Every year in the USA, 32,000 people die in car accidents and millions more get injured for a cost to the nation of $200-$300 billion. The Center for Disease Control estimates of hospital-acquired infections shows that between 50,000 to 100,000 people die every year because of pathogens transmitted in U.S. hospitals. Similarly, as many as 20,000 people die of home-related accidents every year in the country. On a funnier note, since 1990 FAA data recorded 198 airplane-to-turtle collisions on the ground (against zero for drones). And the list goes on.

I’m not trying to minimize the risk of drones but let’s take a deep breath here and prioritize the risks. The emerging drone industry has positive and negative aspects. Some measures must be taken to ensure a certain a level of security but they must be based on actual facts, not fueled by fear and ignorance in the shadow of defense groups and K Street lobbyists seeking to sell their expensive systems. Recently, the United Kingdom Department of Transport launched an interesting initiative to study the effects of mid-air collisions against airplanes and helicopters in order to “improve our knowledge of the potential dangers of drones.” No fear-mongering nonsense here, perhaps it could be a source of inspiration?

Police issue safety advice for flying drones

Northumbria Police say we all need to be aware that if they identify them as flying in restricted areas, then there could be a prosecution.
Northumbria police say you should always keep your drone within your line of sight and always fly your drone away from helicopters, aircrafts, airports and airfields.
Flying these types of aircraft within 150 metres of a crowded area is a criminal offence and may infringe air safety legislation.
Superintendent Sarah Pitt, Northumbria Police’s Operations Department, said:
“The public need to be aware that if we identify them as flying in restricted areas then they could be prosecuted.

“Some users don’t realise these types of aircraft are subject to rules and legislation. We need to ensure we do our part to keep the public safe and informed.

“You should always keep your drone within your line of sight and always fly your drone away from helicopters, aircrafts, airports and airfields; those found violating these rules could face prosecution.

“Flying these types of aircraft within 150 metres of a crowded area is a criminal offence and may infringe air safety legislation.

“Not only could flying drones in the flight paths of aircrafts cause major delays, some of which come at a great cost, but it could also put members of the public at risk and it will not be tolerated.”

Training courses for the PfCO qualification ( Permission to fly for Commercial Operations ) cover the safety aspects of flying a drone and the legal requirements in great detail . The Government has announced new safety awareness courses for owners of drones.

DJI drone lands on Britain’s new £3 billion aircraft carrier

Despite being a multi-billion-dollar, state-of-the-art warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth was recently visited by a visitor that went completely undetected by those aboard: a consumer drone.
The drone pilot said he was “amazed” that he was able to fly the drone past armed patrol boats (he noted police on the smaller crafts did wave at the drone) and land it on the deck of the carrier, where it went undetected. The pilot, who is currently unnamed, said he landed on the carrier after receiving a high wind warning from his controller while flying over the ship. When he attempted to mention the security issue to crew members later on, he was told the ship was mostly empty as most of its crew was on shore, but that his message would be passed along appropriately. The pilot also mentioned that he felt the only law he broke was flying over a ship of which he not in control and that he had no intention of raising alarm. Nonetheless, the incident has caused serious apprehension among experts, as it demonstrates that those with ill intent could use normal consumer drones to attack such ships in similar fashion. As such, security has been increased and talks of increased punishment for such infractions have begun.

Amazon plans a fleet of drones with maintenance facilities on trains, in vehicles, and on boats.

Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries.

Right now, it’s all still early stages — but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech.

For example, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they’re not helping you make any money — so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible?

One possible answer: An ambitious fleet of mobile maintenance facilities based on trains, in vehicles, and on boats.

In a patent filing published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office earlier this week, Amazon reveals it is thinking about exactly this (emphasis ours):

“Intermodal vehicles may be loaded with items and an aerial vehicle, and directed to travel to areas where demand for the items is known or anticipated. The intermodal vehicles may be coupled to locomotives, container ships, road tractors or other vehicles, and equipped with systems for loading one or more items onto the aerial vehicle, and for launching or retrieving the aerial vehicle while the intermodal vehicles are in motion. The areas where the demand is known or anticipated may be identified on any basis, including but not limited to past histories of purchases or deliveries to such areas, or events that are scheduled to occur in such areas. Additionally, intermodal vehicles may be loaded with replacement parts and/or inspection equipment, and configured to conduct repairs, servicing operations or inspections on aerial vehicles within the intermodal vehicles, while the intermodal vehicles are in motion.”
In plain English? Amazon is exploring the idea of building special facilities that can store, repair, and deploy drones, and pre-emptively moving products and drones to areas of anticipated demand (based on seasonal trends, say, or a special event in the area) before launching them.

These facilities could also be transported and based on boats.
Some caveats apply to all this. For a start: There’s no guarantee Amazon ultimately builds this. Big tech companies file thousands of patents a year, and not all of them make it into finished products.

And Amazon’s drone ambitions are still in their infancy. It has carried out a few carefully stage-managed trials in Cambridge, but it still seems a long way off commercial deliveries — much less building a sophisticated network of mobile infrastructure to support those deliveries.