The technology fighting back against rogue drones
Drones have the power to change the world for the better. They can be used in disaster relief efforts and provide humanitarian aid by delivering life-saving supplies such as water, medicines and blood to areas rendered inaccessible by natural disasters or war. In other scenarios drones are helping farmers with precision agriculture. When used correctly, they are able to increase crop yields and profitability while reducing a number of traditional components necessary for growing crops such as water, fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides. Drones are also revolutionising the world of retail and ecommerce with the technology poised to drastically reduce shipping times for customers and cutting logistic costs for the retailer.
It’s clear to see that in the right hands, drones can be used to great effect, but in the wrong hands, drones are going rogue – from nearly causing air accidents, grounding flights (yep, you guessed it, i’m referring to the Gatwick airport drone crisis) and bringing airports to a standstill, to being used as offensive weapons, delivering contraband to prisoners and spying on people. So how can we fight back?
A geofence is a virtual fence – commonly known as a perimeter – that centres around a physical location. So, when an object enters, or tries to leave, this perimeter, something happens. The best way to understand the geofencing technology is to think about it as a fence around your home. For example, when someone enters your yard, an alarm triggered by the technology can be activated. In the case of drones, geofencing can be used to ‘fence off’ a sensitive or restricted area (such as an airport or a prison. It can also be used to ‘fence in’ a drone on a mission, for example when mapping an agricultural field.
Net capture technology
Net capture tech can be added into interceptor drones that can lock onto a rogue drone and disable it in mid-air. Rather than allowing the rogue drone to just fall from the sky, the net catches the drone and the interceptor drones flies it to a secure area before landing. This type of system was deployed at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year and has been used successfully by police in Tokyo for the last three years.
Pilots use remote controls to connect with their drones and direct their flightpath, however the radio signals between the remote control and drone can be interrupted, known as jamming. Once a person jams a drone, they can force the drone to either land on the spot, halting any further movement or return to the location the owner has identified as “home”.
In 2017, Les Nicolles Prison in Guernsey installed a jamming system called SkyFence. Skyfence works by placing sensors around the perimeter of the prison to identify any incoming drones. Once alerted to an intruder, the system fires up multiple radio transmitters that emit a signal designed to overwhelm the drone’s radio transmissions. This interrupts the connection with the operator and stops the drone proceeding any further. And as most drones are programmed to return to their last point of control if the signal is lost, it gives law enforcement a chance to track the drone and trace the operator.
Lasers are another option. Both the US and China have experimented with technology that can shoot down a device within seconds of locating it. Engineering company Boeing has developed a high-energy beam that locates and disables small drones from several miles away. It is said to use infrared cameras that can work in low visibility, such as fog. Last year, China demonstrated a laser gun at a weapons exhibition in Kazakhstan. The so-called “Silent Hunter” was claimed to be effective in helping police intercept drones and other small aerial targets with “high accuracy”.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands has discovered a low-tech solution to the high-tech problem. Police have trained eagles to bring down “hostile” drones by latching on to the propellers with their talons, instantly disabling them. Trainers say the eagles see the drones as prey and are not interested in attacking anything else when released. Dutch police are believed to be the first in the world to have implemented this method.
Tackling rogue drones is very difficult. All of the examples above have both pros and cons but while a perfect solution has yet to be found, interest and investment in drone countermeasures is increasing, giving authorities a growing number of options for tacking rogue drones. Until a perfect solution can be found, we can only pray we never get caught up in another Gatwick December drone disaster ever again!