Technology

DJI Adds ‘Local Data Mode’ To Drones Weeks After The U.S. Army Ban

DJI, the Chinese manufacturer whose drones are perhaps the most popular around the globe, has now introduced a “local data mode” for its enterprise customers. The development surfaced weeks after the United States Army told its personnel to immediately discontinue use of the company’s drones, citing “cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products.”

DJI Drones
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DJI drones now have local data mode

In a press release, DJI VP for Policy and Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman said, “We are creating local data mode to address the needs of our enterprise customers, including public and private organizations that are using DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world.”

The Chinese manufacturer admits that its flight control apps regularly communicate over the Internet to make sure that the drone is equipped with the most relevant local maps and geofencing data, meets power requirements, and has the correct radio frequency and latest app versions to fuel ensure flight safety and functionality. However, the U.S. Army was concerned about the types of data collected by the DJI drones.

Now with local data mode activated, all DJI apps will be restricted from sending or receiving any data over the Internet, thus providing better security. Pilots will still be able to receive the live video feed on their mobile devices. However, live streaming to apps such as YouTube and Facebook will no longer be available. Once the drone is back at the base, all the apps can be reconnected to the Internet to get important updates.

Although users could have switched on flight mode on their smartphones while operating the DJI drone to access similar functionality as local data mode, they could have missed out on important messages and emails during the flight, notes The Verge. DJI stated that the newest feature will not be available where an Internet connection is required or where local regulations require having one.

Addressing enterprise customers’ concerns

Earlier this month in a sudden turn of events, the United States Army released a memo stating, “Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the U.S. Army halt use of all DJI products.”

At that time, DJI stated that its drones are specifically built to cater to civilian and peaceful purposes, and if a military outfit uses its products, there is no way they can find out who they are. Further, DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg stated that the company was clueless about why the U.S. Army banned use of its drones.

Although the Chinese manufacturer said it had no hint of the army’s concerns before the memo was released, the press release it issued about local data mode stated that it had been working on the feature for several months. So either DJI actually had prior knowledge that such a development was going to happen, or it was just a smart move from the company in presuming the likely conditions that it might have to face at some point.

Lisberg told TechCrunch that the recent feature is not in response to the army’s memo and that the U.S. military has never explained its concerns to DJI. Rather, he said the feature has been under development for quite a while now, and it was rolled out because enterprise customers needing serious data security have always wanted something like it.