Why Did DJI Stop Production of AeroScope?
BY Zacc Dukowitz15 March 2023
DJI recently stopped production of Aeroscope, its drone detection platform.
When you go to the Aeroscope product page, there’s now a popup with a message that reads “The Aeroscope is no longer in production.”
Credit: UAV Hive
So far, DJI hasn’t issued any statements about why Aeroscope isn’t being made any more, let alone explain the reasoning behind the decision.
But we do know you can’t buy Aeroscope any more on the DJI site (though it’s still for sale on some reseller sites). And it seems like existing Aeroscope systems will probably no longer be supported, though that is also unclear at this point.
What Is Aeroscope?
Aeroscope is—or was—a system for detecting and identifying drones.
Dubbing it a “drone license plate,” DJI created Aeroscope to address the absence of formal Remote ID rules and technology in the U.S., making it possible to ID a rogue drone and to generally keep tabs on who was flying in a given airspace.
DJI originally created Aeroscope for law enforcement and government agencies in the U.S.
But since its launch in 2017 it has been adopted by businesses, governments, and airports throughout the world, not to mention prisons, power plants, and those in charge of other types of sensitive infrastructure and locations.
Using the system, you can obtain several pieces of information about most drones operating in a given area, including:
- The drone’s flight path
- The drone’s status
- The location of the drone’s pilot
Why Did DJI Stop Making Aeroscope?
There are several reasons DJI may have stopped making Aeroscope.
Brendan Schulman, who used to be DJI’s V.P. of Policy & Legal Affairs, recently tweeted two of them:
I don’t work there anymore, but probably two reasons:
1. It doesn’t make sense to continue supporting a feature that was created to assist US security interests when being constantly attacked by US security agencies.
2. FAA Remote ID is being implemented.https://t.co/qOXXGMxzvj
— Brendan Schulman (@dronelaws) March 4, 2023
Schulman’s first reason—that DJI is tired of being attacked as a security risk by the very people it built security systems like Aeroscope for—seems somewhat unlikely, at least on its own.
It’s true that DJI has been blacklisted and repeatedly attacked by several government agencies over allegations that it shares data its drones collect with the Chinese government.
But it’s hard to believe that it would stop making Aeroscope just because of these attacks. The U.S. is one of DJI’s biggest markets, and it has repeatedly fought back against accusations about data sharing. It’s also created a line of drones called Government Edition expressly made to cater to government markets, even in the face of losing all its government market share in the U.S. to blacklisting and new Blue UAS requirements.
Schulman’s second point, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense.
Remote ID will be implemented on September 16th of this year. And Aeroscope essentially serves as a stand-in for Remote ID, allowing organizations to identify drones in their airspace. Hypothetically, if DJI made Aeroscope as a stop gap, it could just be tacitly acknowledging that the system won’t be needed any more by halting production.
(But why not wait until September 15th, one might ask?)
Another reason DJI may have stopped production on Aeroscope is that the market for systems that identify and detect rogue drones has gotten way more sophisticated and complex since 2017.
There are now a number of companies that specialize in technology only for dealing with rogue drones, including identifying and detecting them. And DJI may have decided that it just doesn’t want to compete for market share in this growingly crowded space.
The War in Ukraine Could Also Be a Reason
Another reason DJI may have halted production on Aeroscope is that Russian forces have reportedly used it to find and kill Ukrainian soldiers.
In fact, some have taken this a step further, and accused DJI of actively supporting Russia.
In 2022, the Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister accused DJI of “helping Russia to kill the Ukrainians.” The accusation included claims that DJI intentionally helped Russia tinker with Aeroscope to help it find Ukrainian forces, and also that it made Aeroscope stop working for Ukrainians who were trying to use it to find Russian soldiers.
DJI has denied these allegations, but a recent controversy about encryption has made things worse for the company.
It recently came to light that, although DJI claimed that ID data from its drones was communicated in an encrypted format so it couldn’t be accessed by bad actors, it actually wasn’t encrypted. If Russian forces were somehow able to access unencrypted data that showed the location of Ukrainian troops, then it could certainly explain why some might think Russia was being given secret information by DJI.
The truth is, all of the reasons we’ve covered here could have combined to make an overwhelming argument for stopping production of Aeroscope.
The constant attacks from U.S. security agencies about privacy concerns might not be enough on their own.
But when you add these attacks to all the other factors listed here—the approaching implementation of Remote ID, the crowded market, and all the controversy over the war in Ukraine—it may have added up to a clear decision: just stop making Aeroscope.