What is geofencing and why does it matter to you?
Geofencing is one way drone manufacturers are working to keep the skies safe.
Geofencing offers many different and useful applications, ranging from turning on your house lights and opening your garage door when the system senses you are getting close to home to protecting or “fencing” off certain locations from traffic, as in the case of drones. To put it in some context, think of the fence you have around your back yard to keep uninvited guests and vermin from straying in.
For drones, geofencing stops takeoffs and flight in restricted places, such as near airports, prisons, amusement parks, and other sensitive areas.
Many major drone manufacturers, such as DJI, implement geofencing in their drone systems to keep drone pilots from flying into these areas. DJI, for example, offers the DJI GEO System, which illustrates geofenced areas that DJI drones respond to.
The GEO System limits entry or takeoff from geofenced areas where drone flights could be dangerous or raise other safety or security concerns.
Geofencing is a sophisticated system using location controls, such as GPS, to know and understand where your drone is located and its proximity to geofenced areas. Typically, once you power up your drone it looks for and locks onto a number of satellites to get a fix on its position. This is helpful for things like Return to Home and overall flight stability functions.
Keep in mind, this example is based on general parameters and you still should always check and be aware of any local, state, or federal regulations that also may apply.
Don’t tell me where to fly!
We get it. It’s understandable that anyone may feel that they should be able to fly anytime and anywhere they choose. I mean heck, you just plunked down a pretty nice wad of cash for this thing, so you should be able to do whatever you want, right?
Flying a drone, whether as a hobbyist or professional operator, means you are putting a powerful device in the air. And under certain situations, it could be used improperly, whether intentionally or accidentally.
With geofencing, many drones simply will not take off if you try to fly in a restricted area. They will simply sit there and you will see an alert message denying your flight appear on your controller’s screen.
There are exceptions to the rule, however. For example, if you are a 14 CFR Part 107 FAA certificated Remote Pilot flying a professional flight mission with your DJI Mavic Pro or Phantom series, and you have prior authorization and a valid DJI account, you can get a temporary unlock or self-authorization for the flight through the app. Note that this is not possible in all geofenced areas, such as those surrounding national security or other highly sensitive areas.
While geofencing works to keep secure areas safe, there also can be some situations where it is an obstacle. Search and rescue and other drone-related emergency services can be hampered or delayed if a drone cannot takeoff or if you are waiting for a temporary unlock to process. These instances where time is of the essence can be an issue with geofencing.
Some drone manufacturers are choosing to not have these restrictions built into their systems — and they actually promote this as an advantage to emergency responders and others who prefer to not be guided by geofencing. The very popular Autel Evo is one such model making this point.
The advantages for legitimate users is obvious, but there is a certain responsibility falling on the individual user to maintain awareness of their surroundings and use the right apps and tools to know the status of their flight area.
Geofencing and the remarkable ability of drones to understand where they are in the sky is a wonderful tool to help remote pilots fly better, as well as a step in keeping the skies safe.
As more and more drones take to the skies, it is a great benefit to have these autonomous tools to keep everyone in their own lane and flying smoothly.