Chinese company DJI, the world's leading drone manufacturer, is developing technology that will allow anyone with a WiFi-enabled smartphone to access information on unmanned aerial vehicles flying nearby.

The industry, in general, has been under scrutiny following high profile disruptions, including incidents at Gatwick and Heathrow airports that left flights grounded for days. In a bid for more transparency, DJI wants the public to be able to access basic info on a drone including its remote ID, altitude, speed, and location. The app will be available sometime in 2020, pending regulatory approval.

'Remote ID functions as an electronic license plate for drones, allowing anyone who is curious about a drone in the sky to learn more about what it's doing,' said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. 'Around the world, aviation authorities have said remote ID is the key to allowing more complex drone use, and to solving concerns about safety and security. DJI's direct drone-to-phone remote ID shows we're committed to providing a solution in a way that is instantly usable worldwide without any additional infrastructure.'

The direct drone-to-phone remote ID system was first demoed to participants this week at a park in Montreal, Canada, during the International Civil Aviation Organization's third annual Drone Enable conference. Smartphones from Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi received Wi-Fi Aware signals from DJI Mavic Air and DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise drones. The app, in its current form, is able to identify drones operating within a 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) range.

DJI currently holds over 70% of market share worldwide for consumer-grade drones. Global spending on consumer-grade unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to reach $12.3 billion in 2019, up from $9 billion the previous year, according to research firm IDC. As demand continues to increase, aviation regulators including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are pushing for a requirement on remote ID systems for drones. The FAA is on track to complete a mandatory proposal by year's end, but rulemaking will take another year to complete. EASA will start imposing requirements by June 2020.

'As more drones take to the skies every day, remote ID addresses the public's interest in understanding what's happening in the airspace,' said Christian Struwe, DJI Policy Director, Europe. 'DJI's drone-to-phone implementation helps accomplish that by allowing drone pilots to broadcast a simple description of their flights, so anyone viewing the smartphone app can understand that they are inspecting a roof, surveying a construction site, or performing another beneficial task with a drone.'

Some remote pilots are already skeptical of allowing anyone to access information about their flights.

DJI developed AeroScope back in 2017 to address similar concerns. It's a much more powerful system, offering a range of up to several miles away. While other drone manufacturers rejected the system, it's being used by prisons, stadiums, airports, and even car dealerships to detect any unauthorized drone usage. Now, they want to eliminate the requirement for adding telecommunications equipment, subscribing to an ID service provider, connecting to a cell tower, or buying a data plan in order to fly safely and legally. DJI plans to make their latest drone-to-phone technology available to competing manufacturers, though a list hasn't materialized yet.