Skip to Content

Can DJI’s No-Fly Zone Software Stop ISIS from Weaponizing Drones?

Virtual fences could help drone manufacturers stop aircraft being used as home-brew killing machines—but terrorists may have other ideas.

A recent trend amongst terrorists in the Middle East has been to equip off-the-shelf drones with rudimentary explosives to turn them into miniature bombers. But the world’s largest drone manufacturer is fighting back.

Last year, the Pentagon announced that ISIS fighters had decided to add a weapon to its arsenal that America has been employing to devastating effect for years: drones. But instead of expensive, missile-carrying aircraft, the group's soldiers have begun using modified consumer drones that were retrofitted with explosives, turning them into flying bombs, or the means to to drop explosives on a target. This year, the terror organization even announced that it had established an Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen unit, which claimed to have killed or wounded 39 Iraqi soldiers in one week using drones.

Now, the Chinese drone manufacturer DJI has decided to fight back, according to the Register. Software in the company’s drones can define no-fly zones that the aircraft are forbidden from entering. Typically, this geo-fencing technique is used them to prevent people from flying their craft into restricted areas, like airports and military bases. But DJI now appears to have added a series of locations across Syria and Iraq to the list, including the city of Mosul.

It’s not clear how constructive the move will be. First, it’s possible to circumvent the no-fly zones by making tweaks to a drone's software. Second, not all of the drones being used by ISIS are off-the-shelf: as Popular Science reported last year, the organization has also been building its own aircraft from scratch, using component parts and rudimentary airframes. It will also affect operations by Iraq’s own military, which has itself started to use modified consumer drones to attack ISIS in recent months.

(Read more: The Register, Washington Post, Popular Science, USA Today, “The World as Free-Fire Zone”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.

The worst technology failures of 2023

The Titan submersible, lab-grown chicken, and GM’s wayward Cruise robotaxis made our annual list of the worst in tech.

AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.

Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.