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The Push For Anti-Drone Technology Is On

Derrick Threatt

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SensoFusion-Airfence Anti-drone technology

Coming soon to an airport near you: Anti-drone technology, capable of sniffing out an approaching drone and alerting relevant authorities.

Really, it is coming. Testing is well underway, and it likely won’t be long before an anti-drone system is monitoring the airspace around your local airport, prison, nuclear power facility, or any other sensitive area where officials want to keep drones at bay.

Already, the Federal Aviation Administration is testing several competing (and, in some cases, complementary) technologies under a Pathfinder program. Systems on the FAA’s radar and testing plans include units produced by CACI International, the FBI, Sensofusion, Gryphon Sensors and Liteye Systems.

A recent cover story of Unmanned Systems magazine made the topic its cover story. It also quoted an unnamed FAA spokesman as saying “We selected manufacturers with a variety of UAS detection technologies, including radar, radio frequency and optical. Research suggests more than one type of sensing technology may be needed at an airport environment, and each airport has unique user needs and engineering challenges. (The magazine is produced by AUVSI – The Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International.)

So what are some of those systems?

Well, CACI’s SkyTracker, for example, “detects, identifies, tracks and mitigates UAS threats,” according to its website.  They’ve produced a video to show what the system does, so let’s have a look:

It’s also worth noting that the SkyTracker system – which employs a lot of antennae – can also locate the operator. Another good reason to respect no-fly-zones.

Of course, the majority of drone operators do tend to behave responsibly. But there are always rogue operators. Whether they’re trying to drop drugs into a prison, or grab close-quarters video of an Airbus coming into land – it’s behavior that taints the entire drone world. And it’s largely a result of those irresponsible acts that this new field of drone detection and mitigation has arisen.

Drone Detection

Finland’s Sensofusion has already developed a backpack-portable system called Airfence. It has already been deployed at multiple sites across Europe and can detect drones from some six miles away. It finds them by doing some electronic eavesdropping – attempting to pick up radio communications between the drone and the operator. It triangulates the likely location – then instantly sends an alert that responders can pick up both in command centers and as alerts on mobile phones.

SensoFusion-Airfence-Mobile-Notifications

An alert from the Airfence system. In this case, it identified Yuneec as the incursion culprit.

An American company, Gryphon Sensors, uses multiple technologies in its drone-busting effort dubbed Skylight:

  • Radio frequencies to confirm target types (ie drone brands and models)
  • Radar to first pick up drones approaching or entering the space
  • Video to track targets

The company says radar is a useful tool, as many drone operators are now using pre-programmed waypoints that rely on GPS to carry out their flight plan. In other words, there is minimal radio communication with the operator.

 

Another contender out there is called Liteye Systems. It also uses multiple technologies, including radar and video to locate and track UAVs and their operators. Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.14.13 PM

But what’s really cutting-edge is that Liteye is also apparently testing using another drone to help with its Anti-UAV Defense System (or AUDs, if you need another acronym!). Yes, it has integrated the ability to track into an Aeryon Skyranger – a high-end and robust quadcopter used largely by police and military for surveillance – to provide an eye-in-the-sky perspective.  Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.13.36 PM

While all of this anti-drone technology may make the average pilot feel a bit of unease – it shouldn’t. Remember, these systems are being aimed directly at drones, and drone users, who deliberately break the rules and fly where they are not supposed to.

In other words, if you know the rules and fly safe – no worries.

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