Do Drones Need Digital License Plates?

Do drones need digital license plates? A new partnership between two technology firms, AirMap and DigiCert, aims to find out.

In-brief: there are more drones registered in the U.S. than aircraft, but there’s no easy way to track the unmanned aerial vehicles using the public airspace. In this podcast we speak with DigiCert CTO Dan Timpson about his firm’s partnership with AirMap to provide strong digital identities for drones. 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or “drones”) are one of the fastest growing categories of consumer devices out there. You’ve seen them hovering over your local high school football game on Friday night, or zooming down the beach during your summer vacation. But UAVs have applications in industries from agriculture to transportation and even retail- if Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has his way.

According to a recent FAA report, there are 460,000 registered drone operators in the US, compared to just 315,000 registered aircraft. But the rapid adoption of drones has created new problems. There have been 241 incidents of near misses between drones and larger aircraft, according to the FAA, not to mention injuries to people and damage to property resulting from drone crashes. Last December, the FAA began requiring drone owners to register their aircraft, but absent a way to identify and manage devices using the public airspace, collisions and other risks resulting from UAVs are unavoidable, as the population of the flying devices grows.

To address that risk, AirMap, an airspace management platform for unmanned aircraft, has recently struck up a partnership with the digital identity firm DigiCert to issue what the two companies are calling “Drone ID” – something like a digital license plate for drones. Drone ID comes in the form of trusted TLS certificates that provide a unique, validated aircraft identity number that could provide a way to securely and effectively control drone air traffic.

AirMap and DigiCert are partnering on Drone ID, a strong identity for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that use a digital certificate to authenticate drones. (Image courtesy of AirMap.)

In a statement, AirMap said that drone operators who register their drone online will receive a digital Drone ID certificate, including a unique, validated aircraft identity number that can be loaded onto the drone and shared with others in the drone ecosystem. That identity can be used to digitally sign information coming from the drone, enabling more efficient and secure communication from drone to drone, between drones and other aircraft, and with platforms providing airspace information and services, like AirMap.

While UAVs don’t typically come to mind when you think of “Internet of Things” devices, they almost certainly are. And DigiCert’s partnership with AirMap may be a precursor to other kinds of ecosystems for managing connected devices.

To talk about the new partnership and its implications for the broader Internet of Things, I sat down with Dan Timpson, the Chief Technology Officer at DigiCert to talk about his company’s partnership and the prospect of extending strong identity to large ecosystems of connected devices.

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