As regulations continue to lag, what technology can protect the skies from drones?

11 April, 2018

You're walking to your local neighbourhood's park on a beautiful, sunny Saturday. Birds chirp, the surrounding greenery is blooming and your dog, Rover, is behaving at a level previously unseen.

Then you hear it. That incessant buzzing.

You look up, confused. You think no bird or insect could be so disruptive. And then you sight it - the latest DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone. Rover starts barking. The greenery is reduced to shrubs and clouds block the sun. The terrible drones are here and there's nothing we can do to stop them!

Or is there?

The Federal Aviation Administration expects that the small drone fleet in the US will more than double in size - from 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units in 2022.

Drone technology, even in the recreational consumer market, is already so developed that only the smallest amount of input is required from pilots. This is understandably supporting the widespread uptake, with most beginners able to become reasonably proficient with the equipment in just a few hours of flying.

Because drones are so readily available, the demand for them has quickly outpaced the establishment of firm regulatory provisions.

Take Kenya, for example, which only made the use of drones legal in late Mar-2018. Or even Hong Kong, which on 03-Apr-2018 launched an extensive consultation on how to improve its rather rudimentary drone regulatory environment.

Regulation, and subsequently the education of operators, are still catching up, with many drone operators not being aware of where they can or cannot operate.

As a result, counter-drone measures are, and will continue to be, an important factor in ensuring that drones are not flown beyond their legitimate jurisdiction.

These measures range from physically capturing drones to software manipulation, along with a few more interesting methods. With the technology obviously able to encroach on sensitive public and private areas, which could pose a security concern, addressing drones in this way will be very important in the short to medium term.

The Blue Swan Daily outlines a few of these approaches and how they work:

Anti-drone 'Bazookas':

It would be understandable to react to the word bazooka and what it seems like, but no, this technology isn't going to shoot down a drone and have it dissolve into 2000 little pieces. Generally, there are two variants of this technology - either a physical capturing mechanism or a software jammer.

OpenWorks, Engineering, a group of British engineers, has invented the SkyWall100 portable counter-drone system.

The system is equipped with a scope for aiming and a target lock function reaching 100 metres, then it shoots a net to capture drones in restricted areas. The nets are paired with a parachute, meaning a falling drone would do less damage to any bystander on the ground.

Here is a demonstration of how the SkyWall100 system works:

Keeping in line with the bazooka-shaped technology, the Sydney and Virginia-based counter UAV specialist DroneShield offers a relatively different approach to addressing rogue drones.

Looking at its 'DroneGun MKII': the product uses radar-jamming software with coverage up to 2km, which either lands drones or redirects them back to their operator, who can then be tracked. The DroneGun also immediately scrambles video transmission back to the drone, making it an appealing option for use in high-security zones.

Drone detection systems:

An approach widely seen as the way forward for critical infrastructure (though kind of less cool), drone detection systems often involve installation of sensors for perimeter intrusion monitoring and protection.

FORTEM Technologies offers the 'SkyDome', which gives users a 360-degree true view of local airspace traffic, including drones. When paired with the company's 'TrueView' radar product, the systems can detect approaching drone activity up to 1km away, allowing security personnel to take appropriate mitigation or remediation action as needed.

Other methods:

In addition to the above, there are even more creative methods employed today. These include training eagles for drone takedowns - mostly seen in Europe - and using a specially developed larger drone equipped with nets and other rogue drone management/control equipment.