Preventing Drone Crashes: When National Security Depends On It

Silhouette of man with flying drone in nature at dusk.

(DGIwire) – Keeping small drones from smashing into things is a big challenge. According to a recent article in IEEE Spectrum, these flying devices often don’t have the payload capacity for sensors needed for real-time avoidance of trees or power lines. Now a team of drone researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has devised a unique solution for obstacle avoidance: simply encase the drone in a small protective “roll cage” and send it on its way. Even if the drone collides with another drone or object en route to its destination, it won’t be harmed. As IEEE Spectrum reported, the team has already built a fleet of 10-centimeter-wide drones demonstrating its unique design.

Trouble is, some drones aren’t benign—and having them crash into anything could be disastrous if they are carrying a hostile payload. Under such circumstances, being able to ensure that a drone lands safety and smoothly becomes a top priority. Such realizations are driving the drone defense market, which is projected to rise to $1.14 billion by 2022 according to a Goldman Sachs research report.

“There are several challenges linked to defending targets from hostile drones,” says Jonathan Hunter, CEO of Department 13. “Jamming the radio signal controlling the drone is generally illegal in the U.S. and interferes with other communications and electronics. Attempting to shoot down the drone during flight presents its own dangers—for example, it could simple detonate an onboard explosive or release contraband payload into the wrong hands anyway. And such measures can be ineffective against a swarm of drones.”

To address these challenges, Department 13 is developing MESMER™, an open software platform for the identification, tracking, and mitigation of a variety of radio-controlled devices including drones. MESMER’s mitigation approach, called protocol manipulation, allows the system to take control of one or many drones to stop them, safely land them, redirect them, or take total control of their flight. MESMER’s abilities have already been successfully demonstrated to U.S. government agencies and the intelligence community; it was one of eight finalists in the August 2016 MITRE Challenge and also featured in the U.S. Department of Defense’s September 2016 Black Dart Challenge.

MESMER can often capture and decode raw drone telemetry data: this provides not only the location of the drone but potentially reveals information about the drone’s base station or controller. In some cases, MESMER can even obtain video, accelerometer, magnetometer and other onboard system data.

The MESMER platform offers significant benefits over standard electronic mitigation approaches; for example, it does not attempt to overpower signals in the way that jammers do, and it is inherently low-power so that it has no inference with existing electronic signals in the vicinity. It is versatile as well: MESMER provides proactive security measures that can allow prison authorities to enforce perimeters to prevent the use of drones to deliver contraband; it can be integrated with military defense systems on land or sea to allow security of military forces and interdict enemy drones; and it can deter threats posed by drones at public events such as sports, concerts, malls or high-population areas.

“With the use of personal, commercial and military drones bound to rise sharply in the years ahead, being able to defend against their misuse in technologically sophisticated ways is becoming a critical need,” adds Hunter.

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