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While drones have a number of constructive applications, such as planting fields, delivering packages and monitoring the safety of factory workers, their potential use in both the military and criminal realms have become a source of concern over the past few years. During the course of this blog, we’ll study a number of methods used to capture, disable and destroy hostile drones.
As drones wielding cameras are becoming progressively less expensive, developers of anti-drone technology have begun an industry of their own. Israeli engineers have recently developed a technique which not only detects a drone, but determines what it is viewing. They first create a recognizable pattern on the object to be viewed. Once the pattern is established, the drone’s radio signals are intercepted from a remote source to search for an identical pattern in the streaming video the drone sends back to its operator. If detected, they can determine they are being monitored by the drone. By use of this technique, the subject is able to see what the drone sees by pulling the pattern from the radio signal-even without cracking the drone’s encrypted video. This technique capitalizes on a video streaming feature known as delta frames. Instead of encoding the video as a series of raw images, it’s compressed into a series of changes from the previous image in the video, which means when a streaming video displays a still object, it transmits fewer bytes of data than when the subject is moving or changing colors. A number of tests at international sites have proven this compression feature can reveal key content of a video to the subject intercepting it. Though an effective technique, compression stream monitoring is too sophisticated for the average drone user.
Another method of drone detection is through the radio signal between the operator and the drone. The Aeroscope system, developed by the Chinese firm DJI, works by detecting the communication signal between the drone and its controller. It then decodes the signal and sends the drone’s telemetry data and registration to the Aeroscope box, much like that of a GPS display. If the owner of the offending drone is registered, an e-mail may be sent to the owner, advising them of local policies. While the Aeroscope system is currently only able to detect DJI drones, which represent about two-thirds of the drone market, enhancements are expected in the near future. Firmware updates will allow the Aeroscope to communicate with other drones based upon electronic signature. These communications will be in real time, as opposed to the current e-mails, which may not be read until days after the event. While the Aeroscope system has proven effective, it is too costly for the average drone enthusiast and primarily utilized by governmental agencies.
Another defense against drones is to capture them. This may be accomplished by using an interceptor drone or a land launched net. These drones use video cameras which are directed toward suspicious drones flying in unauthorized areas. Once the interceptor drone is within range of the suspect drone, it shoots a synthetic netting which wraps around the suspect’s propellers, forcing it down. The Tokyo Police have a fleet of interceptor drones, whose mission is to protect both public buildings and officials. The drones, which measure 3′ by 3′, deploy netting measuring 3′ by 6′ and have been largely successful, leading to the arrest of the drone operator in one case. Police in Britain use shoulder-mounted guns to intercept drones. The most sophisticated of these devices, developed by the British engineering firm Open Works, is a large bazooka, the SkyWall100, which fires a net and parachute at a target while using a high- power scope for aiming. The SkyWall system is a highly successful one, in global use by a number of security services and government agencies.
Several other methods of drone interception bear mention. During the last few years, both the United States and China have tested laser technology which can successfully shoot down a drone within seconds of interception. Boeing has recently developed a high energy beam that both locates and disables drones at a distance of several miles. This device utilizes infrared cameras, which are effective in conditions of low visibility. A novel approach was taken in the Netherlands, in which eagles were trained by Dutch police to bring down suspect drones by latching on to their propellers, rendering them ineffective. The eagles see the drones as prey and quickly lose interest in other pursuits. Drones may also be disabled by jamming their operating frequencies. Two such devices have come into use, the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), scans the skies for hostile drones by use of a high-powered radio signal. A portable system, which utilizes targeted radio signals to disrupt drone controls is the DroneDefender. The Defender system is an electronic rifle which operates in the same manner as the AUDS device. These currently have a range of about 1,500 ft, with more capable units under development. The potential problem with using both the AUDS and Defender systems are their capability to jam local radar transmitters, a source of legal problems. Finally, several drone manufacturers have collaborated to establish no fly zones for their drones. If you add your address to their database, any drones made by these manufacturers will be unable to fly over your property due to built-in GPS restrictions. Though a viable concept, not all manufacturers are willing to allow access to their database, as well as no law to enforce its use.
During the last five years, the use of and uses for drones have increased exponentially. In this blog, we’ll trace the employment of drones in a number of industries.
While much of the current drone technology isn’t new, recent investments in both capital and technology have made drones a practical tool in a number of industries. The agricultural sector is one in which drone applications are on the rise. With the global population projected to reach about 9 billion by 2050 and agricultural consumption to increase by 70 per cent during the same period, the use of drones in agriculture has the potential of revolutionizing that sector of the economy. Such drones are high-tech systems which perform many tasks a farmer can’t, such as conducting soil scans, monitoring crop health, applying fertilizers and water, even tracking weather and estimating yields, as well as collecting and analyzing data. With the FAA currently streamlining regulations for agri-drone use, the market for such systems has the potential for approximately 80% of all drones produced, according to a recent study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
A number of construction companies are exploring the possibilities of utilizing drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in that industry. Drones have a number of roles in the construction industry: among them are marketing, surveying, inspection, progress reporting, safety and monitoring workers at multiple sites. In the survey role, drones allow contractors to get detailed information about a job site, as well as conditions on surrounding properties. While site surveyors are necessary in some situations, drones can perform essentially the same function at a fraction of the cost. In the realm of construction inspection, drones offer a high degree of flexibility. For example, drones can effectively scan the roof of a skyscraper, revealing any possible construction faults. They are also useful at sites such as tunnels and bridges, which may be inaccessible from the surrounding land. The contractor can even use the drone to compare the construction to the actual plans of a project. Drone photography can be utilized to show aerial views of a site from different angles to determine feasibility of construction. These photos can be sent to a number of potential contractors during the bid process. The same capability is also useful to show job progress to developers, who may not be able to visit the site on a regular basis. Finally, drones provide a means of monitoring the safety of workers at multiple sites, keeping the contractor informed of any safety issues on a real time basis, requiring a fraction of the manpower and cost of on site supervisors.
Drones also have potential in the commercial sector. For example, Wal Mart is currently utilizing drones comparable to those used in agriculture to scan warehouse inventory, checking for missing or misplaced items. Drones flying through a warehouse are able to complete an inventory in a day – a task that would take an on site warehouse crew a month. Though in its early stages, a few major companies are using drones for delivery purposes. Dominos Pizza began a delivery service in Britain, in which a drone was able to deliver two pizzas per trip. This service has the obvious advantage of avoiding traffic jams. In Philadelphia, a dry cleaning service is using drones to make emergency deliveries of laundry to customers. Though weight restrictions are a problem, they are capable of flying a freshly cleaned suit to a customer’s front door. The latest evolution is party drones, which fly over an outdoor party, playing prerecorded music.
While drones haven’t been adopted on a mass scale, they have increased the functionality of a number of key industries, breaking through the traditional barriers. From quick deliveries, to monitoring construction progress to agriculture, drones increase work efficiency and productivity, improving customer service, safety and security – with little or no manpower. According to a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers study, drone related activity provides an economic boost of more than $127 billion globally. With the relaxed FAA flight rules approved in 2016, drone operators have more flexibility from which to operate. As it becomes cheaper to develop industry-specific drones, subsidiary niche markets will emerge. A recent study indicates the use of commercial drones could add $82 billion and 100,000 jobs to the national economy by 2025 – not bad for a young industry.
In 2001, two events occurred which shaped the military and law enforcement applications of UAVs( unmanned aerial vehicles), or more commonly called drones. The first event happened on April 1 of that year, in which a U.S. Navy EP-3A signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese J-811 interceptor approximately seventy miles off the coast of Hainan Island. While the Chinese aircraft was destroyed, the EP-3A was able to land safely on Hainan Island with the crew eventually released and the plane shipped back to the U.S. in sections aboard a Russian freighter. On September 11, the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists crashing jetliners into the towers. Both situations underscored the need for an unmanned aircraft. In the case of the Hainan Island incident, a means of gathering signal intelligence without the vulnerabilities of having a crew forced down over hostile territory. In the September 11 case, a means of destroying and neutralizing the leadership of terror cells without direct military intervention.
While such aircraft have been successful in the war on terror, drones are being considered for use in domestic operations such as homeland security, disaster relief and law enforcement. Although relatively few drones are currently flown over U.S. soil, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that about 30,000 drones could be flown domestically within 20 years. Both members of Congress and the public have expressed concerns about privacy and other civil liberties. While ground-based law enforcement must have a search warrant to enter an individual’s residence, there is currently no such restriction for drones. This is because the airspace above a home is considered a public space. Two approaches under consideration to correct this are to obtain a search warrant detailing the specific use of the drone and the filing of a data collection sheet, stating the time, date and property to be photographed. Another aspect of this is previous court rulings allowing manned aircraft to collect evidence above a residence, in which a 1989 Supreme Court ruling allowed imagery of marijuana growing in a greenhouse taken by a helicopter. With drones getting ever smaller, nosy neighbors could pose a similar threat.
Drones are currently regulated by the FAA, which prohibits people from using them commercially and requires public institutions to apply for authorization to use them. However, all of this will change in 2015, when the agency is directed by Congress to open domestic skies to commercial drones, and to integrate the use of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Based on existing law, surveillance of an individual while in their home, using technology not in general public use, would be in violation of their rights without a search warrant. Perhaps the key factors are whether the drone was flying over a public place or private residence and was the search considered active (crime in progress) or continuous surveillance. While Congress has shown a willingness to debate the issue, much of the privacy battles may be fought at the local level, with each state developing standards for law enforcement use of drones and how to regulate the use of drones by individuals.