The Trouble(s) with DJI’s Aeroscope

A love and hate relationship between the USA and China.

DJI is the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian drones and its products can be found in a wide variety of recreational and commercial settings. Given the ubiquity of DJI drones, their ease of use and affordability, many governments and police entities around the world now employ them in their day-to-day operations.

In October 2017, following a series of drone-related incidents, the Chinese drone giant released a drone detection and tracking system called Aeroscope designed to allow security administrators to spot errant or hostile DJI UAS in their airspace. Aeroscope has been adopted at a few major airports and is seen by some as an answer to a growing drone threat to air traffic. But, Aeroscope comes with some serious issues of its own.

Risky Investment?

Tensions have been rising between the United States and DJI’s home country of China and US officials have become increasingly fearful of Chinese-made devices potentially spying on American communications and critical infrastructure and transferring information back to China. 

In May 2019, President Trump signed an executive order allowing the US government to ban the importation or use at sensitive sites of flagged Chinese tech, declaring a “national emergency” over alleged attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in American IT and communication systems for spying purposes. Huawei’s 5G project has already been targeted for suppression by the US government and various US allies dropped the technology under American pressure. Could DJI and its products, including Aeroscope, be next?

The future looks ominous. Although the executive order singled no specific country or company out for punishment, it was widely interpreted as a swipe at China. Furthermore, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security issued an alert on May 2019 that Chinese-made drones may pose a “potential risk to an organization’s information.” The alert continued, 

The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access…Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”

Once again, no particular company was singled-out, but given that DJI drones account for around 80% of the US and Canada civilian drone market and that it maintains its headquarters and servers in Shenzhen, China,  DJI is the most likely target. DJI has vigorously denied any involvement in espionage and taken steps to relocate some of its operations to North America, but among US officials a heavy cloud of suspicion hangs over the company.

If the Department of Homeland Security or President Trump decides to crack down on DJI technology, use of Aeroscope, particularly at sensitive sites in American territory such as airports, seaports or military infrastructure may become impossible. And the threat isn’t limited only to the United States. As illustrated by the case of Huawei, the American government has been known to put heavy pressure on its allies to divest themselves of technology it considers dangerous, meaning security administrators in Europe, the Americas, and Australia may be forced to throw out Aeroscope and other DJI products if they want to continue doing business with the US.

Although the threat of an American crackdown should weigh heavily on the mind of anyone thinking of integrating Aeroscope into their airspace security set up, Aeroscope presents a couple of other serious limitations that merit consideration.

CerbAir is proud to be the French leader in counter-drone solutions with proprietary technology developed in-house, within the European Union. That means there are no potential backdoors or diplomatic snags that could put your sensitive airspace, or your investment at risk.

The Other 20%

DJI drones account for about 80% of the civilian drones on the market today and its Aeroscope system is capable of picking up the vast majority of them. But what about the other 20%? In the case of a dedicated criminal or terrorist group, the solution is as simple as purchasing a non-DJI drone (of which there are dozens of models and companies to choose from) to slip through a security system and reach their target. Some adversaries, like the Syrian rebels who attacked a Russian airbase in early 2018, even build their own drones from scratch – making impossible for Aeroscope to catch.

At CerbAir, our drone detection solution detects the overwhelming majority of civilian drones on the market today (DJI and non-DJI alike), and our direction-finding feature allows a security administrator to locate the rogue drone pilot on top of his UAV. Police or security personnel can be immediately directed to the area and apprehend the offending pilot, eliminating the drone threat at its root and reducing the chances of repeated incidents. Gatwick’s nearly 3-day closure cost the airport authority and airlines nearly £17 million in lost revenue. Imagine the savings if the drone operator could have been taken out within the very first hour of the incident.

Is it worth the risk?

DJI and Aeroscope are household names and many people are attracted to the simplicity of adopting an Aeroscope anti-drone solution without really doing much research on the pros and cons. But, buyer beware. While Aeroscope is a fine product, the risks of a US crackdown on DJI and the limitations and vulnerabilities built into Aeroscope’s fabric might make it more trouble than you’ve bargained for. 

When looking for an anti-drone solution, ease of installation and use, as well as cost should all figure into your calculations. But a few other key features to consider include a CUAS solution that is:

  • Unlikely to get caught up in diplomatic struggles between superpowers,
  • Does not suffer from potential espionage and hacking risks (prefer in-house developed technology),
  • Detects nearly all drones on the market, not just one brand,

About CerbAir

CerbAir is a European leader in CUAS (anti-drone) detection and neutralization solutions. CerbAir’s DroneWatch is a combination of scalable, drone detection with our Hydra radio frequency sensor and our software powered by proprietary algorithms. Our anti-drone solutions allow security administrators to detect, characterize and neutralize* hostile drones and locate their pilots from the moment the drone remote control is switched on.

*The purchase or usage of jamming technologies only applies to public order, national defense or national security needs, or public law enforcement in accordance with local regulations.

Drone Detection and Neutralization Technologies – Part I

With so many different anti-drone methods jostling for attention, understanding drone detection and neutralization can be an intimidating task. All the same, a handful of technologies have gradually risen above the rest and been adopted by the majority of airspace security providers. How do you choose the drone detection system that’s right for your airspace? The first step is knowing what’s out there. Let’s take a closer look in our two-part series.

Part I – Drone Detection Technologies

Radiofrequency

Radio Frequency or “RF” technology analyses the RF spectrum within the protected area searching for any form of communication between a drone and its remote control. In some cases, RF can even identify the drone make and model as well as the MAC address of WiFi drones.

How It Works

The vast majority of COTS (“Commercial Off The Shelf”) drones are connected to their remote controls over specific frequencies of the radio frequency spectrum. This means that the drones “talk” to their controllers in regular intervals – around 30 times per second – transmitting information such as altitude and position, battery life and video feeds. The remote “answers” back with pilot commands like “Go left”, “Go right”, “Accelerate”, etc.

The advantage of this style is that the signature or protocol of COTS drones is relatively distinct from other communications taking place on the same frequencies. This means that even in a busy urban environment with an enormous number of different signals flying through the air from laptops, smartphones and other devices, drone communication stands out as distinct “peaks” on a spectrum chart.

In a radio frequency-based drone detection set-up a passive radio frequency sensor captures activity on select frequencies of the RF spectrum and relays it to a computer where specialized algorithms compare it to a database of drone protocols. The computer detects and matches the telltale frequency peaks of drone/remote communication with a high amount of accuracy, sounding the alert as soon as the drone and its remote are activated. Given that different drones have different protocols, a good radio frequency detection system can in some cases even identify the flying device’s make and model.

What about more than one drone? Recent reports out of Syria and Iraq have raised concerns over “drone swarms” or groups of drones steered by a single pilot. With radio frequency detection, even if multiple drones intrude into airspace at a given moment, they can all be detected and tracked as long as they communicate with their pilot over the RF spectrum – which is the case with nearly every consumer-grade drone.

Drone and Pilot Geolocation

A particular advantage of RF technology is that certain sensor configurations allow an administrator to discover and track the location of both the drone and its pilot. Given the restrictions placed on drone interception methods, apprehension of the pilot is probably the safest, least complicated and most effective method of neutralizing drone threats at their source.

Nobody’s Perfect

Despite all the advantages of a radio frequency anti-drone solution, like any technology it has its limitations. Autonomous drones pose perhaps the biggest challenge to an RF-based system since an utter lack of communication between the drone and its controller would eliminate all opportunities to detect it on the spectrum.

But a truly autonomous attack – involving a drone able to navigate by GNSS without even sending back its video stream or telemetry information, spontaneously adapting to changes in the environment and avoiding unexpected obstacles – is extremely complex to orchestrate and therefore unlikely. Barring any sudden technological breakthroughs, RF-piloted drones are likely to remain the device of choice for the majority of operators for the foreseeable future.

  • Pros: Very cost-efficient: drone and pilot localization, drone make and model identification, detection beyond 2km in optimal conditions, passive technology -no interferences-, multiple drone detection.
  • Cons: Does not detect fully autonomous drones. Ambient RF pollution may sometimes reduce effectiveness

Radar

Radar can provide effective detection of drone presence over a long range. It can be successfully paired with other technologies, such as RF or optics, to provide more thorough coverage if desired.

How It Works

A radar system has a transmitter that emits radio waves called radar signals that are either reflected back or scattered by objects they encounter. The distorted waves bounce back to the radar receiver where algorithms convert them into a visual on-screen format that gives an idea of encountered object’s shape, size and density.

Most airports use a mix of radars on the Long Range or “L” band and Short Range or S” band in their air traffic control operations. But since drones are far smaller than any airplane or helicopter, they require a different approach.  K and X Band radars are often used for low aerial surveillance, including drone detection, with X being preferable as its shorter wavelengths (8.0 to 12.0 GHz) provide higher level visibility and are more adapted to detecting small targets.

Pulse-Doppler Radar

An object moving closer or farther away from the radar transmitter creates a “Doppler Effect” – a distortion or bend in the radio wave. A Pulse-Doppler radar drone detection system emits periodic bursts of radio waves and measures the bends in the returning radar signal to estimate the distance, speed and characteristics of a detected object.

Drones however are mostly made of plastic which is invisible to radar and only their metal cameras, batteries and motors provide a platform for the radar signals to bounce off of. Here’s where Micro-Pulse Doppler, an even more precise system, comes in – emitting a series of pulses very close together to get a more accurate picture of the monitored target, a necessary feature when attempting to identify objects as tiny as a drone camera or motor (4)(5).

Where Radar Falls Short

Drones are smaller than manned aircraft and tend to fly close to the ground which makes them very difficult for all but the most specialized radar to detect (6). Such systems do exist, but they often present additional issues such as cost, high-false alarm rate and potential interference (7):

– Cost – The most effective drone detection radar systems are more specialized X band Micro-Pulse Doppler models. The initial outlay can be quite costly for a security administrator. But other costs are a result of the very nature of radar. Since it is an “active” or emitting detection technology, the only way for it to work is to be constantly on. Thus, it consumes considerably more energy than a passive system. This also means that radar coverage can knocked out completely if its power supply is disabled by weather, sabotage or malfunction.

– False Alarm Rates – Due to their comparable size and flying patterns, birds tend to create a lot of false alarms when entering the radar coverage.

Potential Interference – Radar’s active nature and the fact that some communications use the same frequencies may mean unintended interference with local broadcasts and the need to obtain a license to operate the system

  • Pros: Constant coverage. Drone tracking. Multiple drone detection
  • Cons: High false alarm rates. Cannot detect nano drones. Struggles to detect micro drones. Can interfere with ambient communications. Can require authorizations from local authorities.

Optics (Camera)

Optics allow visual and/or infrared thermal imaging detection and characterization of approaching drones and drone payloads. Like radar, optics can be successfully combined with RF technology to provide more thorough coverage.

How It Works

Optic detection uses cameras to spot intruding drones. The cameras can be divided into several types including standard visual security cameras, but Electro-Optic Infrared Thermal Imaging (EO/IR) cameras are the most commonly employed for CUAS. They work by using mid-wave Infrared Radiation (MWIR) or long-wave Infrared Radiation (LW IR)) to scan the protected space and specialized algorithms to spot heat differences between drones and their environment.  

The plastic casing protecting a drone’s inner workings is not a heat conductor and the drone’s motor produces far less heat than one might imagine. However, the lithium battery that powers most consumer UAS generates a sufficient amount of heat to be spotted by a human operator using an infrared camera. Infrared cameras are useful from the moment there’s a difference in temperature and can “see” in total darkness without supplemental illumination, which makes them ideal to use at night or in missions where staying inconspicuous is imperative.

False Alarms and Weather Woes

The chief issues confronting an optic anti-drone system are high false alarm rates and weather-related issues. Cameras employing visual scans have shown consistent issues with false alarms due to the difficulty of differentiating between COTS drones and similarly sized airborne objects like birds, or even leaves. To avoid this, a very large database against which the algorithm can compare the detected object is necessary along with heavy processing power.

Some of these challenges may be mitigated by the complementary use of infrared thermal technology to ferret out drones by detecting their heat signatures. But thermal drone detection can be adversely affected by weather conditions. High humidity, rain or dense fog can severely reduce the effectiveness of infrared thermal drone detection as the infrared radiation is scattered by water particles in the air.

In one study, at a Fog Level of III (“visual detection at <300m” using the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) scale) both MWIR and LWIR hardly were virtually no better than visual detection alone. Thus, infrared thermal drone detection becomes problematic in Summer/Winter seasons in Temperate climates and practically year-round in Tropical, Oceanic or Subarctic climates which present high levels of ambient humidity and/or precipitation.

  • Pros: Visuals can be retained and used for forensic evidence of drone intrusions. Infrared cameras can “see” in the dark. Fewer restrictions for use
  • Cons: Without RD or radar to back it up, false alarm rates are high. Performance impacted by light and weather conditions. Difficulties detecting small drones

Acoustic

Acoustic UAV detection sensors pick up vibrations made by the propellers and motors of drones and can match them to a database of drone acoustic signatures.

How It Works

It works by capturing vibrations which drone propellers and motors emit during flight, on a preset noise frequency band. Composed of arrays of multiple microphones, the acoustic drone detection sensors transmit the vibration to a database which uses algorithms to calculate azimuth, thus locating the sector in which the drone is operating and sometimes even the make and model of the drone. If the system is fitted with a large enough and regularly updated database, a large majority of drone models on the market can be identified.

Acoustic technology is lightweight, easy to install and can be used in mountainous or highly urbanized areas where the presence of hillsides or tall buildings might block some other detection methods. It is entirely passive and thus doesn’t interfere with ambient communications and uses little in the way of electric power.

Urban & High-Noise Environments Present a Challenge

While acoustic detection technology’s advantages: lightweight, low power use and passive nature, make it an attractive option, it’s reliance on acoustic signatures is actually its biggest flaw. Drones are becoming ever more silent as the technology evolves and market pressures demand a quieter device (4). And a homemade drone, constructed from spare parts, may not show up at all since it might not match anything in the database.

In addition, acoustic sensors can often detect drones, particularly in noisy environments, only at relatively close distances (less than 1KM in many instances) (2), which isn’t enough to avert an attack or collision. Given these flaws, an acoustic system might be better suited as a backup to more reliable radiofrequency-based technologies like RF or Radar detection.

  • Pros: Can detect autonomous drones and provide azimuthal information on incoming drone direction. Easy installation. Low-energy use, passive technology
  • Cons: Sound database must be constantly updated to be effective. Drones are becoming more and more noiseless as technology advances and homemade drones may not show up. Detection range is often under 1km

No “Perfect” Solution

Each technology has pros and cons and our experience has taught us that there is no single “foolproof” choice. Nevertheless, it is possible to find an extremely effective solution and set-up adapted to your particular situation, particularly if you opt to mix complementary primary technologies (i.e. radio frequency for detection/geolocation and radar to detect autonomous drones) to assure maximum coverage and if the budget permits, secondary technologies (optic and acoustic) to fill in any potential gaps.

As a stand-alone option, nothing beats the effectiveness and cost-to-benefit ratio of radio frequency, which remains the solid foundation of the vast majority of drone detection solutions and for good reasons.

In the next article in this two-part series, CerbAir will explore the often complicated and sometimes surprising world of drone neutralization.

Want to Learn More?

The playing field for anti-drone technology is crowded and choosing the right system might seem impossibly intimidating. CerbAir has produced a white paper on the subject, complete with descriptions of drone detection and neutralization systems and a convenient checklist to help security administrators determine the best choice for their airspace. Download your copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Securing Sensitive Airspace with Anti-Drone Technology today to learn more.

Additionally, check out our article on qualities to look for in an anti-drone security provider here.

Partner Profile: DRONE VOLT

Photo of Olivier Gualdoni, CEO of Drone Volt standing in front of a world map.
Olivier Gualdoni
Exec Chairman & CEO
of DRONE VOLT

DRONE VOLT is the leading French manufacturer of civilian drones for professional use. Founded in 2011, the company has gone from strength to strength, producing UAVs for the Construction, Security, Defense, Energy and Safety sectors. In 2019, DRONE VOLT expanded its airspace security offer by joining forces with CerbAir to provide its customers with a winning combination of surveillance drones and rogue drone detection. In our latest partner profile, Olivier Gualdoni, Executive Chairman & CEO of DRONE VOLT, answers questions on the company’s history, mission and its partnership with CerbAir. (Interview translated from French)

The Company

Can you tell us a little bit about DRONE VOLT: its history, its mission, and services?

DRONE VOLT’s expertise is in onboard artificial intelligence and professional civilian drone construction.

In 2011, DRONE VOLT started out by distributing civilian drones. We made our stock market debut in 2015 at the Paris Bourse and DRONE VOLT is a listed company on the Paris Euronext Growth Market.

In September 2017, we acquired Aerialtronics, a Dutch manufacturer.

Our Group offers a complete selection of professional drones which can carry loads of up to 20kg (44lbs). As a global partner, DRONE VOLT furnishes turnkey business solutions with added services and drone pilot training. DRONE VOLT is a supplier to administrative and industrial clients including the French Army, the French Defense Ministry, Engie, Total, Bouygues ES, ADP, the GTA, and international government agencies.

Our facilities are located mainly in the Benelux area, Canada, Denmark, the US, Switzerland, and Indonesia.

Personal: What path brought you into the security field?

After five years at the helm of the international group Cybergun S.A., which is a global leader in target practice, I joined DRONE VOLT as Director General and became CEO in 2017.

Security

What major security challenges do you foresee in your area of expertise in the next 5 years?

Mainly challenges related to legislation; the establishment of dedicated airspace corridors for drones to allow their flights to be managed as safely as possible.

Have you noted increases in illegal UAS (drone) activity in your country/region?

You could certainly say that there’s been an uptick in illegal drone flights and dangerous drone flights as well, but the trend is declining thanks to more and more restrictions and the efforts of the government.

In France, the administrative framework for professional drone pilots laid out by the DGAC (the French civil aviation authority) from 2012 onward is being constantly updated with new laws and decrees: the newest one on the 1st of March 2019 updated the zones where it’s forbidden to take aerial photos and put in place identification and registration procedures on Alphatango (DGAC website) for flying leisure and professional devices.

Nevertheless, rogue drone intrusions are still a threat to sensitive sites.

Partnership

How do CerbAir’s anti-drone solutions complement your security offer?

The security and protection of civilian and military sites which DRONE VOLT has made one of our commercial priorities requires adapted solutions.

CerbAir’s drone detection and neutralization capabilities, coupled with DRONE VOLT’s surveillance solutions, constitute a high-performance tool unequaled on the market that prevents drone intrusions into defined airspace.

Become a CerbAir partner and join us in the fight to make the skies safer for all. Click here for more information.

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Partner Profile: Protec

When technology meets security expertise…

 

Founded in 2003 by Gil Ancelin, Groupe Protec is one of the French leaders in the human security and surveillance industry. It is represented in France through 6 subsidiaries dedicated to security services:

  • Protec Security

Assure security of large and small areas, crowded places, administrations, and industrial sites by providing highly skilled security agents, that are trained to intervene quickly and effectively in even the most sensitive contexts.

  • Protec Bodyguard

Personal security escorts with a choice of being accompanied by a man or a woman as a bodyguard.

  • Protec Telesurveillance

24/7 tele and video surveillance, intrusion and fire detection, alarm management, technical installation and access-point control

  •  Protec Service

Reception hosts, multi-domain mystery shoppers, reception service, barmaids

  • Horus Formation

Certified training center specialized in security professions.

Protect Security

Last year, the Groupe Protec made a great step ahead by creating a subsidiary dedicated to new technologies in the security and safety sector, Security Systems by Protec

 

In 2019, The Groupe Prote and CerbAir signed an agreement to join forces to offer our clients the ultimate in security technology and expertise. Security Systems by Protec provides a certified and comprehensive security offer that combines the strengths of a highly-trained staff with technology. CerbAir brings to the table its advanced radio-frequency based drone detection.

It is with great pride and pleasure that CerbAir announces its newest partnership with the Groupe Protec.

Partner Profile: Securify

CerbAir is proud to partner with Securify, a Scandinavia-based security distributor who specializes in high-end solutions for wide-area intrusion detection and deterrence primarily destined for critical infrastructure such as energy distribution, airports, ports (although scalable to private companies and households). The core of Security’s solution is based on compact surveillance SpotterRF radar and our state-of-the-art Radiofrequency drone detection adds another layer of security to an already high-quality offer.

Securify founder Kenneth Nyström recently to talk about his experiences, the origin of Securify and the challenges he encounters in his field.

Your Company

Can you tell us a little bit about your company, its history, mission, and services?

Kenneth: Securify is founded on the insight that perimeter protection is far more than just cameras and fences. In previous lives, we have worked with video surveillance and analytics and in several situations experienced first hand this technology being both costly and insufficient.

We decided to change the way the market thinks about perimeter security. When many would consider us too small and maybe insignificant, we consider our size to be part of our strengths. Focused, flexible and deeply passionate about our mission, to make a change.

Securify acts as a distributor, but far from the typical archetype, we are specialized and provide field services to support our reseller partners.


Personal: What path brought you into your current field?

Kenneth: During my time at Infralogic I introduced Aimetis to the Swedish market in 2006. I was thrilled by the possibilities of VCA but realized over time that outdoor environments were a challenge and that the end users always wanted “more”, to express my experiences in a positive way.

In late 2012 I began to map the market, hunting for something that could work where analytics, fence sensors, seismic and microwave barriers and laser had all failed. I discovered SpotterRF and instantly understood that I had found the answer. Then and there, I decided that perimeter security would be my future focus.

But the other owners at Infralogic didn’t share my vision so I decided to leave. A few months later I founded Securify.

Security

What major security challenges do you foresee in your area of expertise in the next 5 years?

Kenneth: Mastering technology, new to the security industry, such as radar and passive RF detection will require manufacturers, distributors, and system integrators to collaborate. Due to the rapid development of drones, we face an unprecedented challenge, where military-grade equipment and multi-layer solutions, are required to protect people and society. The logical consequence is that this will lead to a new niche of specialized companies with both relevant tools and experience.

Can you tell us more about increases in illegal UAS (drone) activity in your country/region?

Kenneth: Drones represent a threat in Sweden and Scandinavia. Public airports have on multiple occasions been forced to shut down. Prisons, military facilities, and exercises have all reported drone intrusions. Private companies have experienced situations with drones sightings, potential espionage.

The Swedish government took action and in April 2019 the new Protective Act will take effect. This means that facilities protected by this Act will be able to deter drones with jamming technology.

Partnership

How do CerbAir’s anti-drone solutions complement your security offer?

Kenneth: Passive RF-detection is the primary layer in our C-UAS dual layer approach. By combining RF with Radar we are able to provide highly capable solutions. Securify has made a long term commitment to CerbAir by investing in a mobile Direction Finding system.

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How can I Choose the Right Anti Drone Security System?

Airspace security is an extremely complex topic where a great number of factors need to be taken into consideration to provide the best possible solution for a given site. Given the depth of the topic and the enormous amount of competing anti-drone systems (also known as “CUAS” or “CUAV”) on the market, how can you choose a system that provides optimal airspace security at the best cost/efficiency ratio and over the longest possible period?

Qualities to Look For

Strangely enough, the same qualities that make a good friend are the same ones you should be looking for in a provider:  

  • Are they someone you can trust? Ask for references. Any serious counter UAV (“counter drone”) provider will be willing to provide client and partner references and most likely specific use cases to prove they know what they’re talking about. Also, be careful about maximum coverage ranges. Ask the provider if the drone detection ranges they’re giving you are under average or ideal conditions. The difference may be surprising.
  • Are they committed? Does the provider make the sale and that’s the end of the relationship? Just like a “friend” who disappears once they’ve got what they wanted, a provider who cuts all contact post-sale is someone to watch out for. Look for an anti drone security company that watches over you. Post-sale service, software updates, and troubleshooting are essential.
  • Are they knowledgeable? We’ve all seen that annoying guy who claims to know it all but can’t back it up. Test a potential provider’s knowledge and background. Does their representative and/or team have experience in the defense and security fields? What about their materials – do they straddle the fine line between in-depth and easy-to-understand, or do they go too far one way or the other? Can they explain how their technology works in a simple and thorough way?
  • Are they passionate? Trustworthiness, commitment, and knowledge are all extremely important qualities, but without a passionate outlook, a friendship risks falling flat. Is the provider you’re considering constantly learning and updating their knowledge on the CUAS field and all its innovations? Are they already doing their own research and development, or planning too soon, or do they purchase all their technology from third parties? A motivated airspace security provider will always be on the lookout for the newest threats and the latest solutions.

Anti-Drone Solutions Tailored to Your Needs

So, you’ve found an airspace security provider that seems to have all the qualities you’re looking for. Now it’s time to take a closer look at their equipment. While it’s extremely important to have a passionate and knowledgeable security team, without the right tools your airspace is still at high risk. Ask yourself the following questions when examining counter UAS technology:

Think Long Term

  • Can you scale it to your site needs? Is the technology offered modular? That is – can you easily add or subtract elements without having to replace the entire system?
  • Is it upgradable? Is the CUAS solution on offer a good investment over the long-term? Can the software and hardware be easily and regularly updated to keep up with new threats?
  • How durable is it? Is it going to last? And is it resistant to rain, snow, and extreme temperatures? This is especially important if the technology will be permanently installed outdoors.

Ease of Use

  • Is the technology intuitive and simple to use with minimal training? Does it feature a logical and easy interface?
  • Can the anti-drone solution be integrated into your existing security system? How about on-site installation and/or set-up? Drones are quick, your airspace security solution needs to be up and running fast.

Features

  • What is the solution’s base technology? Radar, Radiofrequency, Optic (Camera) or Sonic? How well do any of those particular technologies match the risk profile, topography and ambient pollution of your site? What are their advantages and weaknesses? Don’t hesitate to ask a potential provider to answer these questions.
  • Is the anti-drone solution reactive? How quickly can it detect a drone within its operating range? And what are its detection and false alarm rates – again, under average rather than ideal circumstances?
  • Does the CUAS technology give you the ability to detect the location of both the drone and pilot? Given restrictions on kinetic and non-kinetic drone neutralization in many jurisdictions, locating and arresting the UAV pilot is often the best way to quickly and permanently stop a drone threat.
  • Can the provider’s solution handle a multiple drone intrusion? Drone swarms are the next big security challenge in airspace security. Can the provider’s technology deal with multiple UAS without becoming saturated?
  • Is the technology low interference or passive? Local authorities can be extremely sensitive about “frequency pollution”. Is the provider’s technology low interference or even passive (only emitting a signal when in use)?

Costs

  • What about operating costs? How much does it cost to run the technology? Does it consume large amounts of electricity? Does it require a dedicated staff member to operate?
  • Does the CUAS solution hit the high quality/fair price sweet spot? While airspace security is an investment, it need not be excessively expensive. Does the provider offer a fair cost to quality ratio?

Many factors go into choosing the right airspace security provider. But with a little research and by asking the right questions, you’re sure to find the best provider and technologies to protect your sensitive site or event from rogue drone intrusions.

In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look at different anti-drone technologies.

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A drone or not a drone? Getting this question wrong could cost you

Was It Just a Case of Mistaken Identity?

On 22 January 2019, it happened again, or did it? A drone was spotted by two pilots approaching Newark Liberty International Airport – one of two international hubs that serve New York City. According to pilot reports, the device was soaring at an altitude of 3500 feet (1066 meters), well above the 400 feet (122 meters) prescribed by current civil aviation code.

Given the recent events on the other shore of the Atlantic – in the UK, Newark’s authority was taking no chances. The runway was closed with flights delayed or diverted, only to be re-opened 90 minutes later after no new drone sightings were reported. It seemed Newark’s mystery drone pilot wasn’t hellbent on causing any further trouble.

But within hours of the initial sighting, naysayers began popping up all over social media and the blogosphere – questioning if there had been a drone at all. As a recent article on the blog DroneDJ noted, even DJI jumped into the fray with the company’s Vice-President of Policy and Legal Affairs calling the sighting “not credible” on his personal Twitter account.

https://twitter.com/dronelaws/status/1087864682898227200

The official DJI account was more cautious in its assessment of the event but urged everyone to keep an open mind while reminding us of all the other times a bat, a balloon or even an airborne plastic bag had been mistaken for a rogue UAV bent on air traffic disruption.

https://twitter.com/DJIGlobal/status/1087888765232640000

Confusion Abounds

This isn’t the first time a drone sighting has been called into question. Readers may recall that in the heady swirl of confusion over the Gatwick shutdown Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley of Sussex police himself wondered – perhaps a bit too publicly – if the reason his officers couldn’t track down the offending device was that “there may not have been any genuine drone activity in the first place.”

The Sussex Police department was quick to issue a clarification of the Detective’s statement and a British government spokesperson characterized the quote as a miscommunication. Given the multiple witnesses who attest to having seen the UAV hovering over or near the runway, it’s highly likely that the Gatwick Drone was an authentic – and very costly – rogue drone intrusion.

But, why are these intrusions so difficult to pin down? Part of the reason may lie in the instrument used to make and confirm the majority of sightings – the human eye.

Visual Confirmation of Drone Sightings Is Not Enough

Human vision is not particularly well adapted to accurately identifying fast moving objects. A study conducted in 2012 by researchers at the University of Sydney’s school of psychology revealed that the brain sees fast-moving objects by “using blurs or streaks, as seen in photographs.”

Co-author of the paper Professor David Alais added, “The brain doesn’t see instantaneously. It takes about 100 milliseconds for the neurons in the brain to fully encode information.” Thus a quick-moving device like a drone may register as a blur across the field of vision.

While the brain can recognize the general direction of the blur and perhaps some aspects of its color and form, 100% accurate identification of the object in question is difficult. Throw in unfavorable light or weather conditions and certainty becomes even more elusive. Such factors help explain a large number of false UAV sightings in which a half-glimpsed balloon or plastic bag becomes a drone in the mind of the witness – his or her brain is spitting out the “most logical” interpretation of what it didn’t fully understand.

Given that some modified UAV’s can travel at speeds up to 260kmh (163 mph) in optimal conditions, the opposite may also occur. A real drone could be mistaken for a natural object, like a bird, and the threat goes unnoticed. Given the serious danger the hard metal parts and lithium batteries in many drones pose to landing and departing aircraft – such an oversight could be fatal.

Airspace Awareness = Airspace Security

And thus, we come to the most important reason accurate identification and investigation of alleged drone threats is so fundamental to the efficient and safe management of an airport: Safety. If an airport authority is aware of all objects in its airspace and able to distinguish between real and false alarms – everyone from administrators to airlines, to pilots to passengers, is safer and freer to go about their business.

But safety alone is only at the top of a very motivating list:

Costs – As any airport authority knows, the price of shutting down a runway – even temporarily – is extremely high. Three separate UAV-related incidents in 2016 alone shut down Dubai International Airport, the world’s 3rd busiest airport by international passenger traffic, with every drone intrusion costing an eyewatering US$1million (875,645€) per minute.

Gatwick was hit by an equally terrifying bill for its nearly 3-day runway closure. According to British press reports, the incident was estimated to have cost the airport authority and airlines over £50million (57millon euros).

With such high financial stakes, shutting down a runway over what turns out to be a free-flying plastic sack or misinterpreted reflection is clearly unacceptable. Airport authorities need to know what is in their airspace, otherwise they and the airlines who depend on their management risk losing millions.

Damaged Reputation – Not to pick on those airports who have suffered a drone intrusion, but it’s not a good look. Gatwick, as well as police and military units called in to find the errant UAV, found themselves the focus of anger and the butt of innumerable internet jokes during the crisis with criticism pouring in from passengers, airlines and government officials alike.

An opinion piece in American news channel Fox News observed acerbically that one tiny drone was managing to hold 100.000 people hostage (In reality over 140.000 passengers were affected) while a former UK Chief of the General Staff and former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt called the incident a “national embarrassment.” His lordship added, “People in Europe are sniggering at us…and we’ve just given them 36 hours of fun laughing at this pantomime.”

Clearly, having a system in place to reliably distinguish between drones and other airborne objects (as well as the ability to trace any rogue drones and help locate their pilots) would have done much to avoid an embarrassing and demoralizing spectacle.

Airports Council International Calls for Action

The ACI (Airports Council International) is an organization created in 1991 by airport operators around the world and cooperates with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to: “Defend airports’ positions and develop standards and recommended practices in the areas of safety, security and environment initiatives.”

In January 2019 the ACI released an Advisory Bulletin entitled “Airport Preparedness – Drone related disruption to aircraft operations” in which it urged its members to take proper precautions against drone intrusions and the disruptions they’re liable to cause.

While the ACI advises members to be cautious when examining anti-drone systems, “ensuring that any new anti-drone measures do not create unintended safety hazards and unmitigated risks to other manned aircraft, authorized drones, and aviation infrastructures,” it nevertheless encourages airport authorities to take drone detection and neutralization seriously.

As their Advisory Bulletin pointedly states: “It is incumbent on all industry stakeholders to be prepared to protect the safety and regularity of aircraft operations.

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