Remote ID: Drones are Broadcasting, Is Anyone Listening?

Remote ID: Drones are Broadcasting, Is Anyone Listening?

December 13th, 2023

By: Grant Jordan, CEO, SkySafe

Recently, a lot has been written about the importance of RemoteID and what it means for the Drone industry. In the United States, if you want to fly a drone over half a pound, you're required to register it with the FAA, stick to established regulations, and avoid no-fly zones. Soon, drone pilots will be held accountable for ensuring proper broadcast of their aircraft's location and drone identifier during flight. Most drones already have this capability, and older drones will be required to retrofit to support broadcast abilities for Remote ID.

But the question is, if all the drones are broadcasting, where's the information going, what's the significance of it, and, who is verifying that the drones are transmitting, or are transmitting correctly?

Remote ID - The Drone License Plate

With 850,000 registered drones currently in the United States, Remote ID is an important standard to implement to ensure proper identification.

It's universally understood that if you're driving a car down the street without a license plate, you can get pulled over and cited for it. License plates hold drivers accountable for operating a vehicle while providing a tool for law enforcement to enable that enforcement.

Remote ID is modeled closely after automobile license plates–it's just a digital version for drones. Remote ID broadcasts a drone's ID number, location and altitude, velocity, takeoff location, elevation, and timestamp while the aircraft is in flight. With this data, approved public safety organizations can identify the aircraft owner without revealing personally identifiable information (PII) in the public domain.

However, there is no current plan for how Remote ID will be monitored, or how the data will be used in real life. In the same way that law enforcement can look up a car's registration in the DMV database to get information about the driver, law enforcement should be able to access a drone's registration information in an efficient manner for identification purposes. However, Remote ID is only a solution if you solve for both sides: broadcasting and receiving.

The State of Readiness

The FAA had originally asked all uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) pilots to comply with the broadcast requirement of the UAS Remote Identification (Remote ID) by September 16, 2023. However, the FAA extended the enforcement of Remote ID until March 16, 2024, due to the limited availability of broadcast modules and a lack of approved FAA-Recognized Identification Areas.

Newer drones manufactured after September 16, 2022, should have Standard Remote ID built in but not all do and many companies have lagged on their compliance. Pilots can comply with the rules by updating their drone's software or attaching a Remote ID broadcast module, which is an option for older drone models that can't be made compliant through a firmware update. The reason behind the extension is twofold: broadcast modules have been tough to come by, and drone manufacturers are behind on issuing necessary firmware updates to ensure compliance.

Challenges in Communication

In the Remote ID standard from the broadcast side, there are different ways to comply with the standard while broadcasting. There are four different protocols defined in the standard: two Wi-Fi-based and two Bluetooth-based. While it makes it easy to integrate different types of systems broadcasting these signals, it also makes it harder on the receiving side because you must be listening across all four of those protocols to pick up broadcasts.

What isn't being discussed enough is how the data being broadcast will be received. Who is going to receive it and with what equipment? Where will all of that data live and what's the best way to use it? The limited tools introduced to listen so far are wildly inadequate or have limited detection capability. The solution lies in building out infrastructure in an integrated detection and logging system that serves the needs of law enforcement. It must also work at scale, with expertise in both hardware and infrastructure.

Our current situation is one which is not clearly defined with no clear ownership over who's looking, who's testing, or who's holding all parties accountable for meeting broadcast requirements.

If Everyone Is Broadcasting, Who Is Listening?

With Remote ID imminent we know there is a requirement to broadcast but questions remain – is it being done in a way that's receivable and organized?

We believe the best solution for receiving needs to cover the following capabilities:

  • Partnership with manufacturers to ensure compliance and broadcast standards
  • Broad coverage and detection with multiple signal capability
  • Enterprise-grade interface
  • Historical database for recording, tracking and insight

At SkySafe, we have a database of over 80 drone models and more than 10 manufacturers, it is the largest database of its kind. In the United States, we have tracked over 20 million data points illuminating the activity of drones across the country and since August 2023, we have been tracking flights broadcasting Remote ID. Initially, the percentage of flights broadcasting was just 7.5 percent. After the first FAA deadline in September and the final March 2024 deadline gets closer, we see that this number has increased to nearly 20 percent. We anticipate this to keep increasing as the March 2024 final deadline grows closer.

We've built out the only national network of sensors for receiving, analyzing, and sharing Remote ID and other data from any broadcasting UAS. Together with other key players in this space, we are paving the road with an integrated view and leading the charge on Remote ID and the eventual vision of a unified UTM network to enable commercial drone use.

We're In This Together

At SkySafe, we're constantly testing all drone manufacturers' equipment along with transmitters. We receive signals and can verify who's transmitting correctly or not. We've already seen instances where specific manufacturers have implemented the Remote ID standard incorrectly, thus providing the wrong data in the wrong fields. We're working with manufacturers to rectify the issue.

Entities, such as law enforcement, security operations and facilities managers, needing total airspace awareness need this depth and breadth of data to ensure the safety of the public and their locations. SkySafe is the only service to address the need for transparency and accountability in drone operations. SkySafe's data provides complete airspace awareness, which paves the way for broader drone operations while reducing risks associated with unauthorized overflights.

At SkySafe, our intelligence isn't artificial - we're actively testing across manufacturers and beacons and we're holding them accountable and making sure that standards are met.