DJI Blocks Drone Flights in Washington DC After White House Crash

January 28, 2015      

DJI, the popular manufacturer of the drone that crashed into the White House lawn earlier this week, is adding a no-fly zone to its flight software that will block future flights in the Washington D.C. airspace.

DJI says it will release in the coming days a mandatory firmware update for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ to ensure compliance with the federally mandated no-fly zone around Washington DC. DJI says this same update will also hit the Inspire 1 in the coming weeks.

Here’s how it’ll work. The update will add a list of GPS coordinates to the drone’s computer that tells it not to fly around the Washington D.C. area. When users are within a 15-mile restricted zone, the drone’s motors won’t spin up, preventing it from taking off.

DJI has created a global “No Fly Zones” map that lets its users know where they can and can’t fly. And DJI tells The Washington Post it had planned on adding Washington D.C. to its “No Fly Zones” map, but this recent incident at the White House “pushed up DJI’s timetable.”

“We’re building a larger database of over 10,000 airports around the world, along with some sensitive sites around the world that needed coverage,” says DJI spokesman Michael Perry. “But after this incident we decided to release this firmware a little earlier than planned.”

Now the GPS feature can be turned off on DJI drones, as well as other drones, but DJI tells Gizmodo that users won’t easily be able to circumvent this Washington D.C. restriction. “As long as the Phantom is receiving satellite signals (regardless if it’s in GPS, Atti or Manual mode) the flight restrictions will be in place,” according to a spokesman.

This all stems from an incident on Monday when a drunken, off-duty government employee crashed a DJI Phantom drone into the White House grounds. According to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary, an officer saw the drone flying at a very low altitude before it crashed in a tree just after 3 a.m. Monday morning.

The small drone evaded White House radar that is calibrated to warn of much bigger threats, like an airplane or a missile.

Police, fire and other emergency vehicles swarmed around the White House while the device was examined. The White House and the entire perimeter was on lockdown until around 5 a.m., when pass holders who work in the complex were allowed inside.

President Barack Obama and the first lady were both in India, while their daughters, Sasha and Malia, stayed in Washington with their grandmother, Marian Robinson.

Again, here’s a friendly reminder to know the rules of the air before flying your drone.

DJI is also adding an update to stop its drones from crossing national borders. Last week, one of its quadcopters was found on the ground of a car park close to the Mexico-US divide with bags containing methamphetamine taped to its body, leading to the suspicion that traffickers had tried to use it to smuggle the illegal drug into the States.