Lately, scamp drones have occasioned their fair share of mischief. Who can forget the drones that interrupted firefighters while fighting back wildfires in Northern California this summer? Or the one that nearly took out a competitive skier in Italy recently? Or the one that occasioned power outage in LA? Messenger drones, it’s safe to say, have at times become a great threat to human security.
A new business has developed drone-crippling technology that it hopes will offer a solution. SkySafe, a San Diego–based company started by drone experts from MIT, UCSD, and the Air Force Research Lab, has created what is basically an all-round remote for drones.
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Rather than just halting all radio signals in the general proximity of malefactor drones as most other drone-crippling technologies do, SkySafe has unearthed a method to lock on to an individual drone, overtake the signal piloting it, take over flight, and land it safely. It’s basically drone hijacking, allowing anyone having SkySafe’s technology to take over piloting of a drone in order to ensure a safe airspace.
What SkySafe proffers is distinct in that it wouldn’t mandate hacking into an individual drone every time law enforcement or firemen or an air traffic control needs to take one off the airspace.
SkySafe is yet to release this to the public— it’s planning to do so by mid of 2016—but when it does, it could be really consequential. By August of this year, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) is expected to register close to 700 cases of drones flying hazardously close to airplanes in air (one need not be a genius to imagine what might go wrong if a drone got sucked into an airplane’s engine).
And in just the past few months, there have been more drone falloffs at prisons than you can count on one-hand, one of such was in the last month when a drone seamlessly delivered a handgun to a Canadian prison. Another incident happened in November when a drone ladened with drugs and cell phones crashed into a UK prison. Another drone erupted a mêlée the month before that, when it gained access into an Oklahoma prison stuffed with heroin, blades, and other contraband. For these reasons and more, in the general safety sector, there is much concern to untwine ways to deal with malefactor drones, but no apparent solutions.
“All of these organizations are just trying to cobble something together,” SkySafe founder, Grant Jordan, said. “But none of it really does anything.”
SkySafe said it has already had prospective customers from places like airports, local fire departments, and prisons, adding that they only plan to sell to such customers with responsibility over public safety. In addition to being able to disassemble a drone, SkySafe says it can differentiate between individual drones based on signalling to unravel exactly which drones have been operating in any given area and when, potentially helping to figure out repeat offenders.
When the FAA introduced its drone law earlier this month, it ensured that the penalties were stiff, with those who fail in registering their craft facing up to $250,000 in fines or three years in jail. The handwriting on the wall was clear: drones may be toys, but they are also a technology with the ability to effect serious consequences.
“It’s a little scary when you start talking about how at an airport, one drone sucked into a jet engine could wreck that engine,” Jordan told me. “It’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens.”