As the recreational and commercial drone market evolves with light speed, chances to use this technology for civil uses grow – however, this also counts for possibilities to do harm. The ability to do damage in and outside of conflict zones with warfare tactics is frightening and creates an urge to protect oneself. But how?
Counter drone technology can detect, localize, track and/or ‘interact’ with rogue drones in many ways. This can be an alert for people to initiate safety measures or the active defense of aerial thread. Consumer drones are cheap and modifications are easy to make. Terrorists i.e. can carry several grenades and drop them with up to 5km away from the remote controller. They could get into airports disturbing normal operations or cause irritations/crashes with airliners, which may lead to losses of lives. They could threaten the privacy of people, protected places, events or specifically target critical infrastructure. The FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told terrorist might use drones for attacks in the western world imminently.
Attacks can be very different – needless to say, that counter drone measures must be manifold too and there are various techniques available today. The graph shows a selection of counter drone technology manufacturers – this list is not comprehensive.
Drone detection can be done optically, acoustically or by scanning radio frequencies. This provides the information that a drone is somewhere near you – it doesn’t provide the information where it is exactly and what direction it is flying (e.g. like a fly in your living room: you can hear it but you don’t know where it is exactly).
Detection, however, is the first step to localize and identify a drone to figure out if it’s friend or enemy.
Finding the specific position, speed and heading of a drone are key to initiate protective measures. Long and short range radars are being used to do that and therewith help to increase the response time for a certain countermeasure.
As mentioned before, active measures do not necessarily mean to just shoot the drone from the sky – let’s start at the lowest end of escalation. To protect your security sensitive facility from drones spying through the window, simply closing the sun-blinds might already do it. Regular checks if a drone dropped a Wi-Fi-sniffer on your roof is one example how to protect oneself against this new sort of threads.
To make sure a drone does not enter a certain security sensitive area, jamming is one possibility of active defense. The electromagnetic ‘overpressure’ brings the incoming drone to a stop until it runs out of battery and either returns home or lands.
Directional jamming means focusing the jamming signal towards the rogue drone. This can be rifle-like beam-antennas pointed at the intruder after localization. Another possibility is to intercept a drone from the ground or from the air. Net-guns are quite popular in this segment but it requires the attacker to be already very close to the area where it doesn’t belong.
Spoofing is a very advanced solution of drone defense and done via protocol manipulation, which takes advantage of weaknesses found in all digital radio protocols. This allows to safely land or steer away the attacking drone. The attackers’ remote control then is inoperative.
Using countermeasures in your own backyard is a problem. Firing net-guns or emitting strong electromagnetic fields is illegal in most countries since the latter one i.e. might not just stop drones from operating but also pacemakers. In governmental/military operations, spectrum regulation may not apply. Shielding the G7 summit in Elmau back in 2015 i.e. was a joint effort in line with the federal network agency.
The Main Players
Many companies are exploring this business opportunity – let us give you a brief overview of some relevant solutions on the market per section.
Finland-based Senso Fusion’s counter drone solution ‘AIRFENCE‘ participated at NASA UTM’s TCL2 campaign. AIRFENCE has been designed with over 3 years of military testing with real-world tactical scenarios. At its core, it can automatically detect, locate, track and take over drone controls all on full auto.
Detect and track solutions are provided by companies like Dedrone, DeTect or Gryphon Sensors. Germany-based Dedrone offers fully configurable systems capable of detection, tracking and even jamming rogue drones. Dedrone has partnered with Airbus DS to include the Airbus radar technology to the solution. Dedrone raised a total of $27.9 million USD over the last two years.
Active interception solutions provided by Airspace, OpenWorks Engineering, Theiss UAV Solutions, Groupe Assmann or DroneCatcher rely on actively catching drones with nets from ground or in-air. It allows intercepting with low risk of damage to the drone or the surrounding area and either release the net or relocate the ‘thread’ to an appropriate location before releasing the net.
Radio Hill, Vector Solutions and Battelle manufacture manual jamming devices. Battelle is leveraging its DroneDefender system with Dedrone’s platform alert technology to protect critical infrastructure. More than 200 units have been sold so far to the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and international customers.
Department 13 develops software and communication systems for customers in both the public and private sectors. Their spoofing product MESMER features automated detection via RF scanning and allows to stop, redirect, land or take total control of a target drone.
Bligther, Airbus DS, Droneshield, IAI offer and many others offer end-to-end solutions using jammers of different bands of the RF spectrum to perform an active action against drones. Their solutions are capable to detect and track drones using technologies such as radar, EO/IR cameras or RF scanning and perform jamming by using directional or omnidirectional antennas.
The counter drone market, however, is still a niche market but already shows large contract volumes. Both governmental and commercial possibilities seem endless and we expect a similar rapid market development like we saw in the drone hardware market 2 years ago. This time counter drone technology companies have strong resistance – the vivid startup scene will have to find smart niches and compete against big and established companies that typically served the military sector.
Active counter drone technology is going to be used governmentally only for a foreseeable time. ‘Softer’ solutions might be available for commercial use earlier if regulations e.g. from federal network agencies do not apply. Detailed rules of when, where and how to use counter drone measures outside of governmental applications are not in place at the time when this article was written.
This article is a joint publication of David Torres (CEO of DBX Drones, Europe regional operations manager at AeroAnalytics) and Kay Wackwitz (CEO & Founder of DRONEII.com).