The Verge


Why DJI’s drones are a hot-button issue in the Ukraine-Russia war

Last week, Ukraine accused DJI — the world’s leading drone maker — of letting Russia target innocent civilians with missiles using DJI drone technology. “Are you sure you want to be a partner in these murders?” tweeted Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov last Wednesday. “Block your products that are helping Russia to kill the Ukrainians!”

Reading those words, you might imagine DJI is now shipping killer drones to Russia or perhaps that Russia is using DJI drones as spotters for separate missile systems of its own. But that’s not even remotely what Ukraine’s request is about. It’s actually about DJI AeroScope, a system for locating drones and their operators — which Russia is now allegedly using to find Ukrainian drone pilots and wipe them out.

DJI AeroScope was originally designed for public safety: if a rogue DJI drone gets near an airport runway, a stadium full of people, or, say, a political rally, law enforcement can warn people and find those drones. As part of the AeroScope system, every DJI drone broadcasts a signal that specialized receivers can use to decipher the drone’s position and the position of its pilot. If police need to monitor DJI drone activity in an area and track down their pilots, it’s as simple as planting a receiver and monitoring the signals.