DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, has a problem. ISIS, the terrorist organization, has been turning off-the-shelf drones into flying bombs and making headlines in the process. So what’s DJI doing about this? The company very quietly created no-fly zones over large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Some are suggesting that the no-fly zones amount to DJI fighting back against ISIS and its murderous aviation hobbyists. That would be interesting! After all, ISIS has reportedly created an “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” unit over the past year or so to drop grenades and IEDs into crowds. The Washington Post reported in February that improvised drone bombs killed 39 Iraqi soldiers in a single month. The new tactic has also made headlines at The New York Times which reported on the trend last fall.
But will DJI’s efforts really stop the terrorists’ ad hoc drone campaign? Probably not. The no-fly zones only apply to DJI products which come equipped with software that enables the company to draw geo-fences around certain parts of the world and prevent their drones from flying inside of them. These zones include places like airports in the United States. In the United Kingdom, they also include prisons and stadiums. DJI’s no-fly zones aren’t exactly impenetrable. As the MIT Technology Review points out, some simple hacking will enable a DJI drone to fly inside of a no-fly zone. Furthermore, ISIS is known to use several different brands of drones, including fixed-wing aircraft and homemade devices.
It seems more likely that DJI is fighting a war against bad press. At the very least, the no-fly zones will give the company a good excuse to deny involvement in any future ISIS drone attacks. At best, the tactic will actually deter a few terrorists from strapping bombs to a Phantom 4 and sending it headlong into a crowd. ISIS has a history of finding awful new ways to kill people, though. A software update might slow their march towards destruction slightly, but it surely won’t win the war.
We’ve reached out to DJI for more information about the new no-fly zones and will update this post if we hear back.
Update 8:20pm - DJI sent us the following statement:
DJI makes products purely for peaceful purposes, which is how the overwhelming majority of pilots use them, and we deplore any use of our drones to bring harm to anyone. Our geofencing system is designed to advise pilots of airspace restrictions, and was never intended to enforce laws or thwart people who want to misuse our products. Certain areas vital for aviation safety or national security are marked as restricted in our geofencing system, and we are constantly adjusting those areas to account for temporary conditions that create special restrictions, such as wildfires and major public events.