Researchers developing LED ‘license plates’ to help keep rogue drones out of the sky

by Gannon Burgett

posted Friday, August 21, 2015 at 9:54 AM EST

Dangerous drone usage is on the rise faster than ever. So far this year over 650 incident reports already filed to the FAA; almost triple that of the incidents reported through the same time last year.

One of the biggest problems with curbing the reckless flight of drones is the inability for the operators to be held liable. After all, it’s not easy to identify individual drones and operators can often bring down their drone and leave the scene before being held responsible for their actions.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley might just have a solution though. The project, called Lightsence, uses a multi-colored LED light attached to drones to emit a unique pattern that would be registered to the individual drone owner and be able to be looked up by law enforcement.

The LED light would be able to be read in a multitude of ways, including a dedicated smartphone app, law enforcement camera equipment, and as MIT Technology Review points out, ‘even memorized by someone who spies a drone that’s up to no good.’

As interesting as this would be as a means to identify rogue drones, it seems to have plenty of workarounds. Drone operators could simply tape over the LED array or remove it entirely. There’s also the issue of drones being sold by individuals, in which case the drone would need to be re-registered, a process few drone owners would likely be willing partake in.

Consumer drone usage has exploded almost out of nowhere and although many regulators are working on coming up with effective laws to prohibit dangerous flying of the unmanned aircraft, the technology is increasing far faster than any legislature is able to keep up with.