It is like a scene from a bad 1970 movie. The die-hard prisoner creeps into the courtyard, making sure the guards are unaware of this slip. He whistles and someone from outside the perimeter of the prison flies in a drone carrying drugs, mobile phones, and other valuables. The hardened guy retrieves his loot from the drone and speeds off into the prison on his way to his cell and he gets in there just before the warden comes crashing in to a head count.
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It happened, though, in the Wandsworth prison in South London one fine evening earlier this year. But in this real-life story, the CCTV cameras pick up video of a prisoner picking up deliveries from a drone from just outside the windows of his cell. Life imitates art.
Bad Sides of Drones
There are some nefarious activities that the drone technology can be applied. It can be used by burglars staking out a property prior to robbery, and it can be used by opportunistic journalists who spy on celebrities. It could be used to infringe on an individual’s right to privacy without a valid warrant.
There are also reports that drones are being flown near aircraft. This report is so worrisome that the FAA has set up a committee comprised of bright minds to seek for a solution to this problem. There are also fears that these drones can be used to drop bombs or biological weapons.
The Federal Government, recognizing that it can’t win this fight alone, as it can’t shoot small consumer drones down from the sky with laser as it may be dangerous to the public is searching for drone countermeasures.
Mitre, an American nonprofit organization that runs a R&D Center funded by the state government, is working with federal agencies to help them understand the safety and security issues presented by these UAS.
Mitre understands that fastest way to find this solution is through a “challenge’’ (with cash prize at $100,000) as in their opinion, these challenges are a creative way to identify and nurture diverse potential solutions to a national problem. Of course, there would be other prizes. The best end-to-end system will win $60,000, $20,000 to the best interdiction prize. (It is possible for an individual to win all three.)
Mitre is looking for solutions to detect and safely interdict small UAS (weighing less than 5 lbs) that pose a threat. The aim of this competition is to come up with a creative system (most likely non-kinetic) that can detect and intercept small drones. A criterion is that the system created must be cost effective and can be deployed nationwide immediately.
The event will provide ten participants with a unique opportunity to interact with federal officials who are managing activities in this field and give participants a better understanding of the objectives of the government regarding UAS.
Duane Blackburn, a policy analyst at Mitre, said, “The technology aspects are sometimes the easy part”. He advised this while noting that the hurdles posed by the challenge are not what you might expect.
Mesmer, a counter drone system, is developed by Department 13, a technology company based near Baltimore and has come up with a plan to enable the detection and mitigation of radio controlled devices. It does not jam or employ kinetic attacks and can work as a standalone program. It can be operated below 1 watt and within US regulatory constraints. It detects radio communications between a drone and its operator and uses it to identify the type of drone, employs each signal to take command of the drone itself. Like a James Bond clip, you can order it to divert, land, or return to base.
Droneshield is a company based in Washington and they have engineered a device that uses acoustic technology to detect inbound drones from up to 150 yards. After drones are detected the Droneshield sends messages to the monitoring service effectively shutting down the gizmo.
Maldrone, however, has a more radical approach. It simply infects the approaching drone with malware, kills the engine, and drops it off the sky without recourse to public safety.
Icarus, which is developed by Lockheed Martin, uses multiple sensors to alert an operator of drone approach threat, then takes command of the UAS.
There are FAA regulations that consider intercepting a signal by a drone is just the same as an “illegal wire tap” as jamming signals is against the law.
The Head of Swiss Aviation Consultancy, Andrew Charlton, reckons that “workable countermeasures against small drones will emerge but in order to deploy them widely Countries will have to review rules and regulations drawn up in an era of manned flights.”
If the use of drones is to continue, countermeasures will need to be deployed at government offices, schools, and corporate headquarters. Regulating the use of these drones will require collaborations by regulator, consumers’ policy advocates, and drone companies.