As reported by DroneXL, the ongoing debate surrounding a potential ban on DJI drones in the has taken center stage, with public safety experts sounding the alarm about the wide-ranging impact such legislation could have on , the broader , and even recreational users.

In our latest episode of the PIXL Drone Show, Greg Reverdiau and I talk to Bobby Ouyang from SkyeBrowse and Luis Figueiredo about the possible ban of DJI drones in the United States.

YouTube video

The Proposed Legislation

The discussion centers around two key pieces of proposed legislation:

  1. The “
  2. The “American Security Drone Act”

These bills aim to restrict or ban the use of drones manufactured by Chinese companies, with DJI being the primary target due to its dominant market position.

Key Insights from Public Safety Experts

Luis Figueiredo, a detective with the Elizabeth Department in , and Bobby Ouyang, co-founder and CEO of SkyBrowse, shared their extensive insights on the , highlighting the potential consequences of these proposed bans.

DJI's Dominance in Public Safety

Figueiredo provided a striking statistic, estimating that “90% of police departments fly DJI” drones. This figure underscores the widespread adoption of DJI technology among first responders and illustrates the potential disruption a ban could cause.

Ouyang added context to this dominance, noting, “Out of the 10%, 8 or 9% is Autel… Skydio is maybe half a percent based off of the 1,200 police departments that we interact with.”

Questioning Data Security Concerns

Both experts expressed skepticism about the data security concerns often cited as justification for the ban. Ouyang stated, “There hasn't been any proof… by these claims that have been leaked as far as what they're taking.”

Figueiredo elaborated on this point, saying, “I'm not flying the drones for the CIA… We're flying it in a municipal setting… The majority of the public safety end users, we're using it in a setting where it doesn't really affect National Security.”

Cost-Effectiveness and Reliability

A key argument made by Figueiredo was the unmatched cost-effectiveness and reliability of DJI drones for public safety agencies with limited budgets. He emphatically stated, “It's reliable, safe, and it's cost-effective, and you can't beat that.”

This point was further reinforced when discussing alternative options. Figueroa noted, “These companies, they're pricing stuff way out of our reach.”

Potential Consequences of a DJI Ban

The experts outlined several far-reaching consequences if a DJI ban were to be implemented:

1. Limited Alternatives

With few viable alternatives in the market, agencies may struggle to find suitable replacements. Ouyang pointed out, “If we look at Skydio and , you just end up with one purchase and it's going to be very expensive. There's no other tiers, there's no cheaper more affordable tiers.”

2. Increased Costs

American-made drones are often significantly more expensive, potentially pricing out many departments. Figueiredo explained, “The purchase cycle can be somewhere… a year, it could be 12 months because you have to get all these approvals, you have to get the funding… It's a big investment.”

3. Technological Setbacks

Figueiredo suggested that departments might “have to take a few steps back and adapt to the situation,” potentially using equipment with inferior capabilities. He elaborated, “We're probably going to have to take a few steps back and get used to using equipment that's inferior to what we had… thermals might not be as good anymore, the zoom might not be as good anymore, the flight time, obstacle avoidance, all that stuff.”

4. Impact on Training and Operations

Ouyang highlighted the ease of use of DJI drones, stating, “Just the other day I trained someone who's never flown a drone before to fly a DJI Avata. It's that simple just to pick it up and start flying.” He contrasted this with competitors, noting, “That doesn't… that's not possible with a Brinc for instance where when they're doing demos they have their own pilots flying the drones.”

5. Broader Industry Effects

The experts noted that the ban would affect not just public safety, but also other industries such as agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and even recreational users. Figueiredo pointed out, “If you guys follow, I follow… Beverly Hills Aerials on social… these guys do like everything from like NASCAR to the NFL games, and if you look at the majority of the stuff they're using, it's DJI equipment.”

The Politics Behind the Ban

The discussion delved into the political motivations and lobbying efforts behind the proposed bans. Figueiredo expressed frustration with the process, stating, “They hire the lobbying firm in December and two months later she comes up with this. She had no time to even investigate and figure out if this was true.”

Ouyang added, “Skydio didn't start off lobbying against these guys. They started off trying to compete normally by building a good product at a good price point. It was only until some sort of tipping point… when they realized it actually be more economical for us to just ban our competitors than to beat them in tech.”

Proposed Solutions and Alternatives

The experts explored several potential solutions to address concerns while maintaining access to effective drone technology:

1. Enhanced Data Security Measures

Figueiredo described current practices, saying, “Our DFR program… we're using DJI drones but we're operating on Paladin's DFR platform… Our patrol drones, majority of the times we're using DroneSense… Everything's set up that way.”

2. Domestic Manufacturing Incentives

The discussion touched on the possibility of government subsidies or programs to kickstart a competitive U.S. drone industry. However, Ouyang expressed skepticism about the timeline, stating, “I think the answer is never instead of 10 years… Getting the chips, getting the components and everything all sourced in the US, I think it's a never issue.”

3. Licensing Agreements

The experts discussed companies like that are exploring ways to license DJI technology and manufacture drones outside of . Figueiredo saw potential in this approach, saying, “I think that's a great solution. I like what Randall is doing.”

4. Focused Research and Development

Figueiredo suggested, “I think the correct thing that to have been done from the beginning was like alright, let's do a deep dive into the tech and figure out what the vulnerabilities are.”

The Role of Competition and Innovation

The experts emphasized the importance of genuine competition and innovation in the drone industry. Figueiredo stated, “Instead of taking that money, we're talking about what, 10 years that they could have been taking all that investor money and perfecting their platforms.”

Ouyang added, “It's not a matter of technology or pricing, it's not a matter of pricing, it's a matter of technology and the lack thereof for their competitors.”

Call to Action

Both experts stressed the importance of public engagement and outreach. Figueiredo encouraged viewers to “go to the Drone Advocacy Alliance… They make it fairly easy for you to reach out to your state representatives.”

Ouyang added, “Everybody call your Congressional staffer, make sure to talk to the staffer because at the end of the day the Congress people, they're getting pulled in so many directions, they just end up listening to whatever their staff is saying.”

DroneXL's Take

The potential ban on DJI drones presents a multifaceted challenge for the U.S. drone industry, with particularly significant implications for the public safety sector. While concerns about data security should be taken seriously, it's crucial to balance these concerns with the practical needs of first responders, other professional drone users, and the broader drone community.

The lack of readily available alternatives and the potential for substantially increased costs could significantly hamper drone adoption and innovation in critical sectors. As the debate continues, policymakers should carefully consider the input of end-users like public safety officials who rely on this technology daily.

The discussion highlights the need for a more nuanced approach that addresses security concerns while preserving access to effective and affordable drone technology. This could involve:

  1. Implementing enhanced data security protocols and “air-gapped” systems
  2. Developing incentives for domestic drone manufacturing and innovation
  3. Exploring creative solutions like licensing agreements to maintain access to advanced technology
  4. Conducting thorough, unbiased research into actual security vulnerabilities and their practical implications

Ultimately, any policy decisions should be based on comprehensive research, expert testimony from a wide range of stakeholders, and a clear understanding of the technology's real-world applications and benefits. The potential consequences of a blanket ban on DJI drones could be far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting not just public safety operations but also agriculture, infrastructure inspection, media production, and recreational drone use.

As the drone industry continues to evolve and play an increasingly important role in various sectors, it's crucial that policy decisions are made with a full understanding of their implications. The voices of end-users, industry experts, and technology specialists should be at the forefront of these discussions to ensure that any regulations serve to enhance security without stifling innovation or hampering the valuable work being done with drone technology across the United States.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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