September 16, 2023, is quickly approaching. If you’re not already aware, this date has some significance.
It is the date that Drone Pilots across the United States will need to be compliant with the new Remote ID regulations.
For the longest time, those in the drone manufacturing industry have been aware of this date, as a matter of fact.
They also had a date they were watching closely – September 16, 2022. This was the date listed for Manufacturer’s compliance with these RID regulations.
This date did get pushed back to December 16th of 2022. It seems manufacturers needed a little more time.
For you and me, the date we need to focus on is September 16th, 2023. As we get closer, we’ll be greeted with a better understanding of how all of this is supposed to work, hopefully.
Some things we can already figure out though.
For example, if you own a drone system that is within three to five years from manufacturing and is from one of the large drone providers such as DJI, Autel, or Skydio, your aircraft will most likely already be RID compliant or will be by September 16, 2023, through firmware updates.
The FAA has set up a webpage that lists compliant aircraft. You can check for yourself to see if your aircraft is listed, by going here.
This list is expanding at a regular rate as more companies receive their declarations. So, if your aircraft isn’t listed now, check back as it may be listed later.
If your aircraft isn’t listed, then your means of compliance will need to be through the use of a RID module.
We’re starting to see more and more of these types of devices get released as they receive their Declaration of Compliance that is required.
There are such companies as iAvionix and their pingRID and Bluemark with their DroneBeacon.
Then we have a unique company that is leading the way, Dronetag.
Dronetag – the company
Dronetag has the distinction of being the very first company to receive their Declaration of Compliance from the FAA for a Remote ID module.
Their first Declaration of Compliance was for the Dronetag Mini on September 28, 2022.
Their second was for their Dronetag Beacon on November 15, 2022.
Dronetag also had its very first iteration in the form of the Dronetag DRI.
The DRI model does not have an actual Declaration of Compliance as it is designed for manufacturers and the DoC would then be associated with the finished aircraft.
Such a partnership was realized when Yuneec signed a deal to work with Dronetag in October 2022 to use their RID modules with Yuneec aircraft.
However, being the forward-thinking company that they are, they do offer a variation of the DRI for home-built aircraft.
The Company Dronetag itself is interesting as it stems originally from a Hackathon in Prague. Alright, I know. I had to look it up as well.
A Hackathon is an event in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. Dronetag certainly does that really well, but how cool is that!
Now you can imagine how this started. It began with a group of eggheads getting together and discussing all the possible aspects of Remote ID, the difficulties designing such a system could include, and scaling it to cover the whole of the US and other countries with such regulations.
They brainstormed types of hardware, software, or any additional legislation that may be needed, and what companies may need to be involved. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at such a mind-boggling event.
All that led to the birth of a small company formed of 20 people, named Dronetag, based in the Netherlands.
Not only designing and programming, but then being able to mass produce the actual working units. Well, that’s the dream of every entrepreneur around the globe.
Had Dronetag decided to just stop there, they would be considered a successful business. They seem to be aiming higher than just that, as they also produced an app system that they are able to use with their system and others.
They have truly positioned themselves to be a leader in the Remote ID industry for years to come.
They have not only come up with ways that these RID systems can be used to not only monitor us while we’re flying, but also bring some of that overlooked Safety needed within our industry.
And that leads nicely into looking at the Commercial RID module the Dronetag Mini.
The first thing that one will notice when looking at the Dronetag Mini is its cost, running a hefty 299 pounds or $350 US.
It’s a tough pill of a price to swallow if you’re a hobbyist pilot. Hey, I get it. Money does not grow on trees, or at least none I have found. Silly oaks and maples are about all I come across, usually when flying.
That’s it though, this one isn’t really meant for the Hobbyist pilot. No, this one is meant for the Commercial Pilot, and when we start seeing what this baby can do, the price suddenly looks more than fair.
When they say Mini, I guess so. It’s small and can easily be attached to most GPS Drones, measuring 54x35x15 mm (2.1×1.3×0.6 in).
If you’re trying to fit this onto a smaller aircraft, well, you’ll want to seek out a smaller unit. Such as the Dronetag Beacon or even their DRI module if you’re into FPV.
Weighing 32 grams, for most aircraft that will need it, shouldn’t be an issue, since we are mostly talking about more Legacy-style equipment than say the DJI Mini 3, which is compliant through DJI anyway.
What makes this module different? Well glad you asked. Let’s get into it.
Direct and Network RemoteID
One of the first features you’ll notice about the Dronetag Mini is that is dual-capable. It broadcasts in either a Network RID or in a Broadcast RID.
There is a huge difference between the two and the one most pilots will be focused on is the Broadcast RID.
Let’s take a moment to explain this a bit better.
Direct (Broadcast) Remote ID
When it comes to RID and the requirements that the pilot must meet to be compliant, Direct (broadcast) Remote ID is the required one to have.
What that means is that your drone’s information is transmitted via Bluetooth to up to 1.5km or 0.9 miles.
So, with this type of RID, you are in compliance and are free to fly. For those who want to know just what information is being sent, it’s quite a bit actually.
Here’s the list of the required information to be broadcast for a RID module to be compliant.
Drone Remote Identification with Broadcast Module
- Remote ID capability through module attached to drone
- Limited to visual line of sight operations
- From takeoff to shutdown, drone broadcasts:
- Drone ID
- Drone location and altitude
- Drone velocity
- Takeoff location and elevation
- Time mark
Network Remote ID as found in the Dronetag Mini, is a separate system from this required broadcast system.
Network Remote ID
Network RID on the other hand is usually a closed network that the module can connect to.
This sort of RID can be used to send real-time data to multiple persons within the network and allow for more advanced operations between manned and unmanned aircraft in the same airspace, as anyone with access to this network would be able to view in real-time what is occurring.
This sort of system would be employed in a disaster area to coordinate all the parties in the airspace and this is where we certainly leave the Hobbyist pilot behind.
Another means of employing this type of system would be in the use of monitoring or mapping a shipping yard where multiple aircraft are operating, and the use of overhead cranes and wires could be an issue.
These advanced uses are one of the reasons for this small unit having such a high value to a commercial operator.
Think of the benefits to a pilot conducting worksite monitoring.
That pilot could arrive on site and connect to the local network and then all work conducted would upload directly in real-time, saving that pilot countless hours of uploading.
The fact is that this is not a feature we are going to find on the more standard RID modules and is one of the leading reasons why this module isn’t for everyone.
For those in need of this feature, the future is undoubtedly a bright one, so be sure to bring your shades. We’re just learning how many ways such new pieces of tech and the adjoining programs will benefit us in the long run.
For the more down-to-earth pilot, this is an unneeded and unnecessary feature that, although well worth the cost to a commercial operator, isn’t required for the hobbyist to be within compliance with the upcoming RID regulations.
For those pilots, there are better options.
The Dronetag Mini battery life
As someone who flies multiple flights in a day and in multiple locations usually, a big factor in the equipment I look at and purchase is the battery life.
Will it be a last all-day charge or a “hey can I get it charged up over lunch?” Or do I need to bring something to charge it, since it’ll need to be charged a few times?
These are some of the questions that always run through one’s head when looking at any new gear.
As a drone pilot, these are serious questions. We do after all live by the amount of battery we have on hand.
The Dronetag Mini – it’s got us covered with a long-lasting 15hr battery. I can easily attest to this being accurate.
As a matter of fact, if wasn’t for the long-lasting battery, I may have lost this device entirely while having some fun with it and some friends.
You’re welcome to watch it here:
The one thing I can say after all of that is if it wasn’t for the battery life that the unit had, it would have been lost.
Two things happened on that occasion. One, we learned that there is a server out there that was still registering the flight.
It was from the manufacturer that we were able to get the location information that eventually led to putting me into an area close enough to pick it up again on the app.
At that point, we got even better location information, which led to finding it in the tree. Don’t get me started on trees.
This is somewhat disturbing in a way.
One – I should point out that the active flight was never properly closed. So, the end server was monitoring and logging that flight the whole time as an active flight. Which makes sense.
The company also assured me that when the unit is turned off properly it is no longer sending any data whatsoever to the server and only logs active flights. I guess it never occurred to me and maybe it hasn’t to you as well.
The revelation is that there is a server somewhere that is logging my flight. I have gone through the Final Ruling and never came across anything that may be related to what happens to stored log data of flights.
Now, we know that for years companies like DJI and Autel have been saving flight logs to be used in the event of a warranty claim or crash.
So, it really shouldn’t be surprising that a device designed to track and log would be doing that. It does raise some curious questions, though, doesn’t it?
Second – if you have this device attached and you lose the aircraft with the device, with a bit of coordination and determination there is a high chance of recovery with this system.
This is due in part to the long 14hr battery, as it is well beyond any flight time we could manage and would provide precisely where the craft is located after coming down.
Granted, we don’t like to think about crashing and would prefer that no aircraft, drone or otherwise would ever crash.
In the event that such were to happen, though, having the best means of finding and recovery sure doesn’t hurt.
This device was able to put me on the spot of its location, it was just above me is all. The positioning was spot-on.
How does it work?
Let’s be honest. For nearly all of us, when we hear the term Bluetooth, we think about our headphones or microphone, or some other device.
We also think about the crazy lousy range those devices have.
The idea that anything connected through Bluetooth would reach a 1km, well, that’s just the type of talk that gets you fitted for a nice binding sort of white jacket.
If we were talking about that type of Bluetooth, it would be a fair assessment. Thankfully, you don’t need to have me fitted just yet.
We are talking about a different type of Bluetooth. That and we’re not just relying on that either, as the Dronetag Mini also uses LTE and GNSS.
The Dronetag Mini, as well as most of the RID devices, operate on the Bluetooth 4 or 5 system.
If you’re not familiar with this, it wouldn’t be surprising. Not many are, as it is a new system, with many devices not even offering it as of yet.
Bluetooth 5.0 is the latest umbrella iteration of Bluetooth, the wireless, close-range technology found in smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, wireless headphones and speakers, laptops, desktop computers, and more.
This is the natural progression for Bluetooth as we know it, with older variations still being used and installed in new products.
Finding devices that are equipped with this new Bluetooth 5.0 would be unlikely unless sourcing high-end items such as the iPhone 14, or Bose earbuds and, of course, RID modules.
Its benefits include greater energy efficiency (meaning longer battery life), a more stable wireless connection over long ranges, and less interference.
It’s because of this ability to have such an impressive range that it works well for RID broadcast and is able to reach up to a kilometer.
Bluetooth 5.0 is twice as fast, has four times the range, and can transfer eight times as much data.
If you want hard stats, we’re talking about a bandwidth of 2Mbps. In practice, this means speedy and reliable over-the-air connectivity, leading to faster firmware updates and data uploading.
If it wasn’t for these abilities, RID simply wouldn’t be possible.
As with any type of signal like this, walls and obstacles will impinge on those figures slightly, and because of its more efficient use of broadcasting channels on the increasingly popular 2.4GHz band, it opens the way for “richer connectionless, beacon-based Bluetooth solutions,” such as RID.
Coupled with LTE assist and onboard data, the information being broadcast is amazingly accurate. Another benefit that makes Bluetooth 5 an excellent choice is its ability to allow multiple synchronized data streams.
I know, I needed clarification on what that means (and why it’s desirable) too. Think of your drone: previously, only one connection would be made: drone to controller. The app would simply connect to the controller.
But with a system like this, the app and controller will link with the drone – ie. multiple streams.
This not only improves the reliability of the connection; it also vastly reduces any delay or sync issues that could arise between the app and controller to the aircraft directly.
It is through this method that the ground control system (controller) location can be known as well as the aircraft’s location.
What else does it have?
As with any product, we’ll get a features list. Dronetag is no different. Below are the features listed for the Dronetag Mini. We have already discussed the major aspects of most of these.
Let’s run through them, though, and see if we missed anything.
- Security at its best – Soldered chip SIM, firmware, over-the-air updates, or DTLS encryption keep you safe & secured.
This feature is pretty much the standard and is just what one would expect, that any data being sent is encrypted. So, no surprises there.
- Multi-constellation GNSS receiver. Receiving signals from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and SBAS for robust and reliable positioning.
Once again, this is standard and just what these devices should have.
- Built according to the newest Remote ID standards. Compliant with Direct & Network Remote ID according to the prEN 4709-002 and ASTM F3411 Standards.
Of course, this one’s a no-brainer as without it, what would be the point.
- Internal LTE, Bluetooth and GNSS antennas. With an option to add external LTE and Bluetooth antennas for better signal reception.
Ok, here’s one that stands out. The unit I have had access to has the additional antennas, and it does indeed allow for longer ranges. This is nice if you are in a location where repositioning can be difficult.
So this is a great added feature that they did not have to include. Many in the drone industry probably are choosing to make this a purchasable addon as opposed to just including it.
- Battery with up to 14 hours of endurance. You can also use your drone as a power source for carefree flights without the need for charging.
Certainly a feature to promote, as it’s a device that will last you most of the day, and, if the worst happens, provides a great chance that recovery will be possible.
- Take-off, landing and free-fall detection. Worry-free flight starts and ends. Mini warns other close-by pilots about potential dangers.
Although I didn’t put this feature to the test, it is good that some sort of safety system is in place. In this case, if freefall is detected, the Dronetag will start a new save file, ensuring that the data from the event is not lost.
- Multiple sensors onboard – GNSS position estimation, pressure altitude measurement and motion detection via accelerometer.
Once again, this sort of feature will probably be fairly standard across all the modules. Dronetag does use this data to back up and verify that the other data being logged is accurate. As we all know, in aviation redundancy is just good practice.
- MAVlink & DJI A3 support – Professional DJI and Pixhawk flight controllers’ integration via our EXT port to get onboard data.
This makes integration easy and comes in quite handy if you’re using one of these flight controllers.
What’s not mentioned but should be
This feature list is lifted right from their website. But it doesn’t highlight the features that really make this module stand out, which is a shame, as it was these features that led me to believe their product to be the best.
So, here’s my additional feature list and the one, I think you’ll agree, that makes this an attractive RID module.
- Easy App registration and configuration
I have set up several of these RID modules. Dronetag, by always considering the App side of their product and how it needed to be operated, designed side by side with the modules, the Dronetag App, which is the easiest platform for registering the module and inputting the required information I have found to date.
This factor alone has set the gold standard and should be viewed as a guide for those manufacturing these units who follow.
- Enter multiple aircraft into a single Dronetag Mini module
This is huge! The one module here can accommodate your whole fleet. This is also the main reason for the cost and commercial nature of this RID module and won’t be found in the more basic, less expensive variants.
As a commercial operator, you, of course, have and fly more than one system. As a way of avoiding a RID module for each system, the Dronetag Mini allows you to input multiple systems, and through the app, you are able to switch from one to another easily and then use that module with that aircraft.
I know, maybe it’s nitpicking. I just feel these two should be listed somewhere as they really sell this module and make the cost more reasonable when considered.
The Apps really do make this product more than just a black box you attach to your aircraft.
So, let’s look a little more at what they are, and I do mean they as Dronetag didn’t just come up with an app for their RID modules.
They also covered the other side of this whole affair so well. You’ll see more about that further down.
The Dronetag Apps
Dronetag actually has two apps. One is for the Dronetag product for use with products like the Mini itself, and is so you can register the device and set it up.
The App is very user-friendly and guides you through the process, making it easy to quickly set up the Mini for use.
For the Dronetag Mini, the app is a highly customizable piece of hardware to suit your flight’s needs. It allows you to configure various device parameters, which will help you optimize performance and battery usage.
It has a built-in flight planner and will be LAANC accessible.
Here we have the Aircraft information page. It is here that you would input your aircraft’s information, with an extensive list of aircraft already entered with much of the required information that you the user would most likely need to look up.
Once again, a real attempt to streamline the process.
As you can see by selecting the manufacturer, nearly every model that the manufacturer has is already listed and by selecting that model, such information as Aircraft weight, class, and endurance are filled in for us.
As you can see, we can enter one or more aircraft into the app and then be able to select the aircraft that we’re flying at the time of using the RID Module.
The other App is called DroneScanner. This app was developed for those who want to monitor drone activity in their area.
This is a great app. It is well thought out and works just as designed. It would be easy to pooh-pooh Dronetag for this one.
I also understand that the Company itself has come under some fire for not only its RID products, but for its apps as well. Although I just cannot fathom why.
Those of us in this industry have been aware of remote ID for some time now. It was only natural that as the need or demand evolved, we would see companies looking to provide supply for that demand. That’s business in a nutshell.
Back to the DroneScanner App. Boy! does it work.
This App will not only be able to receive Dronetag modules, but it will also be able to receive all RID broadcasts, such as those being put out by DJI, Yuneec, and Autel as well.
So, what does this App do? Here it is.
- Discover more about drones flying nearby in real-time
- Examine detailed information broadcasted by drones via Bluetooth 4, Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi Beacon, and Wi-Fi NAN
- Browse a detailed map with your location and all nearby aircraft
- Check available data about drones, including real-time height, direction, pilot identification, pilot position, operation description, and location history
- Various flying zones marked and highlighted on the map
- Easy export of collected data
- Continuously updated to reflect the latest EU & US regulations
This is what all Drone monitoring Apps will be doing to one degree or another.
It could be easy to find this as intrusive, sure. This is Remote ID. Now this App is in constant development and will probably change some prior to September 16th, 2023, with the most recent update being on Feb 12, 2023.
I can only assume that as more RID-style modules are developed and as more and more companies make their Aircraft compliant, we’ll see many more updates.
For now, if you’re interested in what’s in the skies above you, you can download this app from the Play or AppStore you use.
I myself have already made the acquaintance of some fellow pilots through the use of this app, pilots who were in the same area as I was and would have been unaware of them if not for the app.
We had lunch together and shared some great stories. So, not everything RID has to be viewed in a bad light.
At the end of the day, if you’re a commercial operator, the Dronetag Mini is an excellent solution to your RID woes.
For the reasons listed above, this is a high-quality, well-designed module that can cover the whole fleet that you may use, with an equally thought-out App for your ease of use.
This product could be useful even if there wasn’t a looming need for it, with its Network Remote connectivity being able to increase workflow and situational awareness within a networked environment.
Its battery longevity per charge could just be your saving grace one day and is certainly enough to cover you for a whole day of flying.
If you’re a hobbyist flyer, with multiple aircraft, this could be a good option as well, with its ability to have more than one aircraft associated with one module.
When figuring out the cost per craft module, and then comparing it to a module such as the Dronetag Mini, the cost alone may persuade you to this class of RID module over the single craft modules we’ll be looking at in the near future.
For those, I can only leave you with this: Sometimes paying a higher initial cost, can lead to savings in the long run.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!
Image Source: Dronetag.cz