Drone maker DJI bans Washington flights after White House crash

Crashed drone Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Secret Service found a DJI Phantom drone on the White House's south lawn

The Chinese manufacturer of a drone that crashed into the White House lawn earlier this week is taking action to prevent repeat incidents.

DJI said it would publish a firmware update in the "coming days" that would prevent its kit flying inside Washington DC's restricted airspace.

It added that a later update would stop aircraft crossing national borders.

Last week, one of its quadcopters was found on the ground of a car park close to the Mexico-US divide.

Bags containing methamphetamine had been taped to its body, leading to the suspicion that traffickers had tried to use it to smuggle the illegal drug into the States.

Owners of the Phantom 2 family of drones will need to download the firmware and install it for the restrictions to take effect, and it is possible that programmers will be able to de-activate the limitations in new models, which will come with the code pre-installed.

Image copyright DJI
Image caption Phantom 2 models will use GPS data to check whether they are entering a restricted zone

But the Shenzhen-based firm said it would tell customers that the update was "mandatory", making it impossible for them to add other future features if the firmware was not already in place.

"With the unmanned aerial systems community growing on a daily basis, we feel it is important to provide pilots with additional tools to help them fly safely and responsibly," said Michael Perry, a DJI spokesman.

"We will continue co-operating with regulators and lawmakers to ensure the skies stay safe and open for innovation."

He added that the firm had already intended to expand the kit's no fly zone system - which works by checking a drone's GPS location data to ensure it is not taking off from or flying into a restricted area, such as an airport runway.

But he told the BBC that the safety features were being "pushed out a bit earlier" than originally planned following the recent incidents.

'The eagle has crash-landed'

On Monday, the US Secret Service launched an investigation after one of DJI's Phantom drones was found on the grounds of the White House in the early hours of the morning.

It later emerged that the device had been flown by another government worker - an unnamed member of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - while drunk, operating the device through the window of a nearby apartment.

He was not arrested, but the incident prompted calls for new rules to safeguard the President and others.

"The eagle has crash-landed in Washington," declared Senator Charles Schumer. "There is no stronger sign that clear FAA guidelines for drones for needed."

Image copyright Tijuana Police
Image caption The drone that crashed near the Mexico border was one of DJI's Spreading Wings models, which will not be able to install the new firmware

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on controls to govern the commercial use of small drones, but there have been reports that it might not be ready to issue them until 2017 or later.

In the meantime, DJI's firmware should prevent at least some of its drones from being able to take flight within the 25km (15.5 mile)-radius zone of restricted airspace centred on the Washington Monument.

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