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DJI will add airplane and helicopter detectors to new drones in 2020

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Making it harder to get too close by accident

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

DJI is about to make it harder to fly its drones too close to larger aircraft. The Chinese tech company announced Wednesday that all DJI drones weighing more than 250 grams — which includes every one it currently offers — released in 2020 onward will have built-in airplane and helicopter detectors.

Each of those new drones will now include sensors that can receive the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) signal that planes and helicopters send out. It’s a technology that’s being mandated by the US government for traditional aircraft that fly through a number of controlled airspaces starting January 1st, 2020, and is even used by air traffic controllers for real-time precision and situational awareness.

DJI’s new drones will use this ADS-B detector, which it has branded as “AirSense,” to alert pilots when a plane or helicopter is nearby. Crucially, it won’t automatically cause the drone to move away from the larger aircraft — that will still be up to the pilot.

The Federal Aviation Administration isn’t mandating ADS-B on drones, but DJI already has the tech installed on some of the company’s more professional offerings, like the Matrice 200 and Mavic 2 Enterprise.

There are already plenty of safety-minded features built into DJI’s drones, like obstacle avoidance, geofencing, altitude limits, and the ability to automatically return to the takeoff spot. But these haven’t been enough to stop inexperienced or simply reckless drone pilots from flying too close to — and in some cases, even making contact with — planes and helicopters. The drones will only be able to receive ADS-B signals, though, so they won’t be able to transmit their location to air traffic controllers — meaning that this tech won’t do much to change the handful of (sometimes unconfirmed) reports about nearby drones that have shut down airports.