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Drinking and Droning Has Consequences

January 28, 2015  - By

Firmware Fixes Coming from Phantom Maker DJI

A drone that crashed on the grounds of the White House had evaded radar detection. Photo: U.S. Secret Service

The quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn. Photo: U.S. Secret Service

A government employee who crashed his friend’s drone on the White House lawn was apparently drinking while droning.

The employee, who works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), was questioned Jan. 26 by the Secret Service as the operator of the drone involved in Monday’s incident at the White House. On Monday at 3 a.m., the drone quadcopter crashed on the White House lawn.

The employee contacted authorities, according to the NGA. The employee was off duty and is not involved in work related to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in any capacity at NGA, the agency said in a statement.

“Even though the employee was using a personal item while off duty, the agency takes the incident very seriously and remains committed to promoting public trust and transparency,” the statement reads.

The Secret Service is investigating the incident.

Firmware to Force No-Fly Zone Compliance

The drone is a Phantom made by Chinese company DJI. The company plans to roll out firmware within days to prevent any of its drones from flying over the D.C. area, in accordance with Federal Aviation Authority guidelines. This will help hobbyists who aren’t aware of or unable to comply with “no-fly zones,” such as the one that covers most of the D.C. area.

Once updated, the DJI drones will not be able to take off from or fly into the nation’s capital or a 15-mile radius around it. GPS technology in the drones will be able to identify the no-fly zone, warn the operator and then stop at the no-fly zone’s border. DJI’s flight software currently prevents flights within a radius of major airports.

“With the unmanned aerial systems community growing on a daily basis, we feel it is important to provide pilots additional tools to help them fly safely and responsibly,” said Michael Perry, DJI’s company spokesperson. “We will continue cooperating with regulators and lawmakers to ensure the skies stay safe and open for innovation.”

The mandatory firmware update is for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ models. It adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, D.C., extending for a 15.5-mile radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace.

“The restriction is part of a planned extension of DJI’s No Fly Zone system that prohibits flight near airports and other locations where flight is restricted by local authorities,” DJI said. “These extended no fly zones will include over 10,000 airports registered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and will expand no fly zones to ensure they cover the runways at major international airports.

“DJI is also continuing to update its no-fly zone list in compliance with local regulations to include additional sensitive locations and to prevent flight across national borders. These new safety features will be released across DJI’s flying platforms in the near future.”

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