Tracking technologies would provide assurance that drones operating nearby are legal and safe.
Updated: Jan 3
Tracking technologies forming the first steps of “Unified or Unmanned Traffic Management UTM” will give a real-time map of which drones are flying in a particular area.
One way of performing that real-time tracking is called "Remote ID", or “digital license plate” for drones. The drone provides real-time information during the flight so that it can be tracked and identified – like a “Find My” app on a smartphone. Anonymized ID information would be accessible to the public. More detailed information would be transmitted to the Unified or Unmanned Traffic Management system to create that real-time flying map and ensure the safety and efficiency of flying operations.
Tracking technologies such as remote ID serve several purposes: privacy, security, facilitating law enforcement, and it is a building block for advanced operations such as Unified or Unmanned Traffic Management UTM. More importantly, Remote ID helps increase public trust in drone operations by providing assurances that the drones operating nearby are legal and safe. Some countries follow different approaches and use different terms when they are referring to remote ID for security purposes, vs tracking technology for UTM. Both purposes are combined for ease of read in this article.
Remote ID is on its way both in the USA and in Europe for end 2023/2024.
UNDERSTANDING REMOTE IDENTIFICATION, OR “REMOTE ID”
What is Remote ID? The “digital license plate” for drones.
Remote ID is often referred to as a “digital license plate” for drones. It is a functionality on the drone that provides real-time flight information about the drone and its remote pilot’s location. It is similar to “Find My” on a smartphone, except that people could track and identify (via an anonymous ID, no actual name or contact details disclosed of course) drones flying in their immediate surroundings.
Why would we need Remote ID? Primarily for privacy, security, facilitating law enforcement.
Drone usage has been increasing dramatically over the last few years and helps increase the efficiency and productivity of many industries. However, these new innovations bring new concerns for the public.
For example, some may worry about whether the drone flying nearby is being controlled by malicious actors, others may be frightened that these machines could be used to spy on their activities, how could the police forces or even people know that the drone they see is operating legally?
“Remote ID is designed to provide greater security, accountability, and safety of drone operations, where a drone will be required to transmit real time information such as a unique serial number and location, enabling it to be tracked. It has the potential to support authorities such as the aviation authority to allow for safer flying, and with law enforcement to allow for threat mitigation and traceability for enforcement by being able to identify a drone, its associated location, altitude and potentially its control station location and take-off point.”
Why would we need Remote ID? To help increase public trust in drone operations by providing assurances that the drones operating nearby are legal and safe.
Many local authorities have been confused regarding whether they should or should not authorise drone flights on their land. How could they know what to do? They certainly are not experts in aviation regulations, cannot possibly keep up with their evolutions, and having a tool such as Remote Identification available to authorities, and possibly to citizens, would greatly alleviate their concerns. Many are not aware that drone flights are already regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority when it comes to safety, i.e., not endangering people and assets on the ground. Having knowledge of this regulator and implementing Remote ID should help greatly.
Why would we need Remote ID? It is also a building block for more advanced operations.
Remote ID is necessary to address aviation safety and security issues regarding UAS operations in our airspace and is an essential building block toward safely allowing more complex UAS operations.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE USA?
In the USA, Remote ID should become effective in December 2022 for drone manufacturers, and September 2023 for drone operators. Our understanding is that it will apply to all drones (except for sub 250grams drones flown for recreational purposes in model aircraft club environment, and federal agencies), and that the public could access anonymous identification number to then share with the relevant authority for check.
If you want to know more, please read the Federal Aviation Authority FAA’s website pages on Remote ID.
The FAA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems was first published on December 31, 2019. Thousands of comments were made, resulting in amendments and delays.
The effective date of Remote ID compliance for drone makers has been pushed back to December 16, 2022. All drone pilots required to register their UAS must operate their aircraft in accordance with the final rule on remote ID beginning September 16, 2023, which gives drone owners time to upgrade their aircraft.
Will it apply to all drones?
The FAA remote ID regulations apply to nearly all drones, with exceptions for (a) drones under 0.25kg that are used for recreational purposes only and under the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization like model aircraft club, and (b) for the U.S. Department of Defence or other federal agencies.
What information will be broadcast?
Whether using a Standard Remote ID Drone or a remote ID broadcast module, nearly all of the message elements are the same and they must be broadcast from take-off to shut down.
A Standard Remote ID Drone must broadcast by radio frequency, i.e., Wifi or Bluetooth the following message elements:
A unique identifier for the drone. Operators of a Standard Remote ID Drone may choose whether to use the drone's serial number or a session ID (an alternative form of identification discussed below that provides additional privacy to the operator) as the unique identifier;
An indication of the drone's latitude, longitude, geometric altitude, and velocity;
An indication of the control station's latitude, longitude, and geometric altitude;
A time mark; and
An emergency status indication.
Who can access the information?
Only authorized parties such as law enforcement will be able to see personal information about the remote drone ID, but the public will be able to see the identification number labelled on the drone, which can then be cross-referenced with the FAA database to find the owner.
How does/will Remote ID work?
In the USA, there are three ways drone pilots can meet the identification requirements of the remote ID rule:
Operate a Standard Remote ID Drone that broadcasts identification and location information of the drone and control station. A Standard Remote ID Drone is one that is produced with built-in remote ID broadcast capabilities.
Operate a drone with a remote ID broadcast module giving the drone's identification, location, and take-off information. A broadcast module is a device that can be attached to a drone, or a feature (such as a software upgrade) integrated with the drone. Persons operating a drone with a remote ID broadcast module must be able to see their drone at all times during flight.
Operate without remote ID equipment, but only at specific FAA-recognized identification areas (FRIAs) maintained by community-based organizations or educational institutions. FRIAs are the only locations unmanned aircraft (drones and radio-controlled model airplanes) may operate without broadcasting remote ID message elements.
Can existing drones be retrofitted?
Yes, a broadcast module can be attached to existing drones, or a software upgrade can provide adequate retrofit functionalities to existing drones.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN EUROPE?
In Europe, Direct Remote ID, or “DRI,” is a compulsory functionality for all drones class-marked C1 and above – but not for Class C0 sub 250grams., nor tethered C3, nor C4 model aircraft. Class marking drones should now be implemented starting January 2024. The public can access anonymous identification number (as well as the location of the drone pilot?) to then share with the relevant authority for check.
The effective implementation of Remote ID is dependent on the more global process of approving Class-marked drones so that they become available for sale on the market. Like in the USA, the key manufacturers have already developed Direct Remote ID functionalities.
Drones with a class identification label (i.e. C0, C1, C2, C3, C4) are expected to become commercially available by end of 2022. The transition period has been extended to 31 December 2023. Starting from 1 January 2024 operations in the open category must be conducted either with a drone bearing a C0 to C4 class identification label, or being privately built or even without class identification label but only if purchased before 31 December 2023.
For reference, in Europe, the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 lays down the requirements for the design and manufacture of unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) intended to be operated under the rules and conditions defined in Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 and of remote identification add-ons. It also defines the type of UAS whose design, production and maintenance shall be subject to certification. The regulation provides for class marking of drones.
Will it apply to all drones?
Direct Remote ID is a requested feature for all drones from class C1 (more than 250g) and above, with the following exemptions:
Class 0 drones that weigh less than 250 grams (including payload).
Class 3 drones with a tether of less than 50 meters and 25g total weight including payload. These must be fully electrically powered and have geo-awareness functionality and features with alerts for low batteries.
Class 4 drones that weigh less than 25kg and have no automatic control functions aside from flight stabilization (i.e., model aircraft).
What information will be broadcast?
The UA or Unmanned aircraft or drone must have a direct remote identification that:
(a) allows the upload of the UAS operator registration number provided by the registration system. The system shall perform a consistency check verifying the integrity of the full string provided to the UAS operator at the time of registration. In case of inconsistency, the UAS shall emit an error message to the UAS operator;
(b) ensures, in real time during the whole duration of the flight, the direct periodic broadcast from the UA using an open and documented transmission protocol, in a way that it can be received directly by existing mobile devices within the broadcasting range, of at least the following data:
the UAS operator registration number and the verification code provided by the Member State;
the unique serial number of the UA;
the time stamp, the geographical position of the UA and its height above the surface or take-off point;
the route course measured clockwise from true north and ground speed of the UA;
the geographical position of the remote pilot or, if not available, the take-off point; and
an indication of the emergency status of the UAS;
(c) reduces the ability of tampering the functionality of the direct remote identification system.
If the UA or drone is equipped with a network remote identification system or a direct remote identification add-on, the information broadcast is equivalent.
Will the localisation of the drone pilot, or at least his/her ground station be tracked?
Yes, the drone pilot’s position, or more precisely his/her ground control station will be broadcasted.
Can existing drones be retrofitted?
Yes, drones may comply with Direct Remote ID requirements either with a built-in broadcast functionality or an add-on module that satisfies EASA requirements.
Who can access the information?
Anybody in the public via an app on their mobile phones can, as long as they are close enough to the drone to receive its remote ID broadcasting. Operator’s registration data and personal data (name, address etc) are kept by the authority in a database not accessible to the public.
We are not sure whether the public can access only a subset of information broadcasted like the operator registration number, or if the public could also access the pilot location (or the take-off position of the drone).
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE UK?
The UK is focusing on Electronic Conspicuity as the key tracking terminology and technologies. The main objective is to develop the first set of functionalities offered by the “Unmanned Traffic Management” services to make sure drones and other aircrafts avoid one another in the sky. There may be a consultation on remote ID implementation in the UK during 2023, or maybe later to capture the lessons learnt from the USA and Europe.
Robert Burns, Anne-Lise Scaillierez January 2023 ©THE DRONE OFFICE LTD
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