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Picking up the pieces – tech company finds way to extract data from crashed drones

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A company in Denver, Colorado has pioneered a data retrieval technique to recover information from crashed drones.

The company, VTOLabs, provides technology solutions relating to cyber security, digital forensics and data recovery.

This site often brings you stories of drone pilots doing idiotic things. While the vast majority of owners are responsible and abide with local aviation laws, there are also those who undertake stupid actions that bring the drone community into disrepute. These actions include:

When someone does something stupid with their drone, how do authorities identify the owner?

Many countries, including the United States, require that users register their flying machine with the local aviation authority (in the US, this authority is the FAA). However, when the owner hasn’t registered or a drone has been stolen, as is often the case, it is often difficult to find out who is responsible for using a drone in an irresponsible manner.

Near misses between drones and planes, such as this one near Las Vegas this year, are part of the reason for extra interest in technology to help identifying dangerous drone pilots.

VTOLabs have determined a method for extracting hidden data off drones.

How does it work?

In the first instance, one assume the lab needs physical possession of the drone. That would imply that unless a would-be idiot crashes or loses control of their drone, VTOLabs would be able to extract data from the craft. Once a technician has a drone in their possession, however, things get easier.

CEO of VTOLabs Steve Watson told ABC News5 Cleveland that his company has figured out how to get hidden information off a drone. Watson explained that by downloading data from the drone’s onboard chip you can find where the drone took off, what its flight path was and where it landed.

“You can find the previous flights that it’s flown, how fast it flew, how high it flew. You can find the users registered information–their e-mail address. Sometimes their home address and some drones. We’ve even seen credit card information,” he said.

There will undoubtedly be limits to the data extraction techniques, particularly if a drone is burnt to a crisp. However, thus far VTOLabs has had a 100 percent success rate in getting data from the drones, even those recovered from underwater.

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