DJI’s FPV drone features AirSense. And especially for a First-Person View product, this is a tremendous, and largely unsung, safety feature.
When the DJI FPV Combo was released, it seems everyone’s attention – including ours – was focused on the fact this was the company’s first FPV drone. So the coverage focused pretty much on the speed, the design, the new goggles, the motion controller… The list truly does go on and on and on. But tucked away in all of that technology is AirSense.
And that, especially with FPV drones, is probably the most significant feature of all.
FPV is amazing, but…
Anyone who has flown FPV knows it’s an incredibly immersive experience. It feels like you’re actually in the air. But that very different flying experience comes at a cost: Reduced situational awareness. When you have goggles on, it’s impossible to see the surrounding airspace.
That’s why regulations in North America (and, presumably, elsewhere) stipulate that a pilot of an FPV device and wearing goggles must have a visual observer with them. It’s that person’s job to keep an eye on the sky – and also on the ground – for anything the pilot should know about.
It’s a really important role. But here’s the thing: A lot of pilots fly these products – whether it’s a DJI FPV drone or a home-built quad – solo. And once you’re locked in that world, you have a very narrow field of view.
In the acronym-laden world of aerospace, there’s a term known by every pilot: Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast. In simplest terms, it’s like an electronic megaphone: A manned aircraft uses it to broadcast information about the aircraft – including its position. Its purpose is for safety – and it can be received by air traffic controllers and by other manned aircraft.
It can also be received, depending on the model of drone, by DJI products. This capability is branded by DJI as AirSense. And the company truly deserves some recognition for this.
Safety in the skies
No one wants to see a collision between a drone and a manned aircraft. It has happened on exceedingly rare occasions (literally a handful), but there have certainly been reports where drones have been sighted in close proximity to manned aircraft (including video footage).
Some of these occurrences, particularly with low-flying aircraft, have undoubtedly been accidental. In one example we recall, a drone pilot was up near a beach in the US when a fast, low-flying helicopter came by. Footage from the chopper showed there was a near collision.
And, of course, there’s the case of the Los Angeles pilot who decided to check out some local police activity, only to collide with an LAPD chopper. That was a little more deliberate (and really stupid).
Point is, incidents like this pose a potential threat to manned aviation, to people on the ground – and also tarnish the image of this recreation/hobby/sector.
AirSense = common sense
With an AirSense-equipped drone, the pilot receives a warning at the first ping of a manned aircraft’s ADS–B signal. If you’re flying FPV, you’ll see this notification pop up in your goggles (or on your app). If the aircraft continues to get closer to your position, the warning will become more urgent.
DJI produced a video highlighting how the feature works and why it matters. It’s really worth watching:
We’ve already seen videos where pilots have received the warning, brought their drone to the ground, and moments later seen a small airplane or chopper very close to where they were flying. In fact, reviewer Ken Heron and his pal saw the feature in action on their very first flight. The video is cued to that section, and it’s really worth seeing in action.
A growing number of pilots – especially with the release of the FPV combo – have found this feature helpful. This has not been lost on Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy & legal affairs:
What should you do?
If you get an AirSense warning, the safest thing to do is simply bring down your drone. If it’s within Visual Line of Sight (assuming you have a visual observer) or relatively close to you, just bring it straight down as opposed to using the Return To Home feature. It’s the fastest way to avoid any potential issues, and it avoids the possibility your drone might gain altitude (depending on your RTH settings), putting itself – and the manned aircraft – at potentially greater risk.
The feature is there for a very good reason – so do pay attention if you have an AirSense-equipped drone.
FYI, this feature, which was on Mavic Air 2 models sold in North America, will be on the forthcoming Air 2S. Great to see.
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