Potential Drone Ban Moves to Senate

Like many emerging technologies, drones possess capabilities that are extraordinary and, also, a bit frightening. Congress has zeroed in on the alarming part, recently passing the Countering CCP Drones Act.

Concerns for National Security

The act aims to protect U.S. national security by banning the use of federal funds to purchase drones made by DJI and other manufacturers with links to the Communist Chinese Party. The Chinese-based company DJI has a dominant US market share. According to Tech Radar: “Most studies put DJI US drone market share at a high-flying 70%.”

You can see why that market share is troublesome. It gives DJI the potential to turn a massive amount of drone data captured in the US over to China’s government. When introducing the bill,  Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, stated:  “Communist Chinese companies that engage in espionage activities and collect sensitive data from American citizens and entities should not be allowed to operate in the United States and this legislation is the first step to prohibiting Chinese drone companies from freely operating on America’s communications infrastructure.”

The official blog of DJI states its opposition to the bill. It writes that their drones’ flight logs, images and videos are not shared with DJI by default (although operators can opt-in to sync data with DJI). It also says that operators have the option to access local data mode and disconnect their flight app from the Internet.

The Growth of Drones in the Supply Chain

Drones are increasingly being integrated into supply chains. Supplychaindive.com reports how Walmart is beginning to use the technology to fulfill e-commerce orders. Additionally, many other companies are leaning into the data analysis abilities that drones manifest when powered by artificial intelligence. A recent article from Forbes writes: “Visual images are only part of the story, with thermal detection, geolocation tagging, 3D imaging, and volumetric calculations all adding depth to the data retrievable safely and cheaply with aerial drones.”

Implications of the Bill Passing

With the supply chain’s growing reliance on drones, what will happen if this proposed ban on DJI ultimately passes?

In the short-term, it’s likely that there would be a shortage on drones. Although one of the stated purposes of the bill is to boost American manufacturing of drones,  there just aren’t enough domestics manufacturers ready to fill the void. Additionally, the cost of drones would probably spike due to both the shortage and the higher labor costs associated with manufacturing drones outside of China.

Yet, it’s also possible that not much will change. The Hill reports that DJI might have already discovered a way to elude negative consequences of the legislation;  it recently partnered with an American company to license its drones for sale.

The ongoing legislative developments underscore the delicate balance between fostering technological innovation and protecting national security. We’ll see how this and other drone bills play out in 2024.  There is also legislation under review that proposes a tariff on drones from China.