Small consumer drones have become the plague that Moses missed. So far this year, 650 drones have been spotted by airline pilots. That’s on pace to quadruple last year’s total, which is troubling because if a pilot can see your drone in the air, it’s close enough to worry about. In July, a wildfire in California consumed 20 vehicles on a highway north of Los Angeles when consumer drones interfered with firefighters for the fifth time that month. And testing jet engines against consumer drones has proved to be a challenge.
To answer this growing problem, Sen. Chuck Schumer last week proposed an amendment that would require consumer drone manufacturers to build software-controlled no-go zones—so-called geofences—into their aircraft. The idea is to let software keep them away from airliners, emergency crews, and the like. “This technology works and will effectively ‘fence off’ drones from sensitive areas like airports,” Schumer said in a press release. Two recent hacker demonstrations show that’s somewhat wishful thinking.
What is a geofence? It’s manufacturer-created software that prevents a drone from flying within certain GPS coordinates. Some drones already come with it; after an intoxicated General Services Administration employee crashed a friend’s DJI Phantom on the White House lawn in January, DJI issued a mandatory upgrade to its software: a geofence that prevents the popular toys from flying within 25 kilometers of the White House and other sensitive sites.
Schumer’s bill proceeds from the notion that such measures can keep drones out of trouble. But while geofences may help keep the average hobbyist…