ANGELES ó A public awareness campaign last year did
little to deter the growing number of rogue drones
flying near wildfires and forcing firefighters to ground
their own aircraft.
this year, the Department of the Interior tried
something a little more direct.
agency gave real-time access to data on all active
wildfires to two airspace mapping companies as part of a
of those firms, AirMap, worked with drone manufacturer
DJI, which created "geofences" around
wildfires. When drones hit the virtual boundary, the
geofencing software overrides the flight controller and
forces them to hover in place. Any drone deployed inside
the barrier wonít be able to lift off.
really want to have this new community of pilots be as
responsible as the manned aircraft pilots that came
before them," said Mark Bathrick, director of the
office of aviation services at the Department of the
private drone use has soared, so has concern about
keeping the remote-controlled aircraft away from
sensitive and high-risk areas such as airports, nuclear
power plants and prisons.
concerns are heightened by high-profile incidents such
as the near collision in March of a drone and a
Lufthansa jet approaching Los Angeles International
Airport. In 2013 a drone crash landed in front of German
Chancellor Angela Merkel at a campaign event, and a
quadcopter crashed on the White House lawn in 2015.
giants Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., as well as
a handful of startups, have jumped into the fray,
developing technology ranging from detection systems to
more disruptive solutions such as software that forces
unauthorized drones to go home or land safely and laser
cannons that shoot unwanted drones out of the sky.
technology is of interest to commercial users as well as
the government. The Department of Defense hosts an
annual counterdrone demonstration called Black Dart in
which the military, its allies and industry partners can
assess current technology and techniques.
this year, the Federal Aviation Administration tested
FBI drone-detection technology at John F. Kennedy
International Airport in New York and Atlantic City
International Airport in New Jersey for a few weeks.
year, Boeing unveiled its compact laser weapons system,
which ignites targeted drones. At a demonstration in
California, Boeing said it took only about 15 seconds
for its 2-kilowatt laser to disable the drone.
the counterdrone industry is still nascent, the global
market ó including both civilian and military uses ó
could be worth at least several hundreds of millions of
dollars, said Michael Blades, senior industry analyst
for aerospace and defense at research and consulting
firm Frost & Sullivan.
all the talk of how many drones are going to be flying
around and, at least on the commercial side, how much
privacy is going to be an issue, I think these companies
saw an opportunity," he said.
will depend on how well the technology works. Itís not
easy to devise a system that tracks and identifies tiny
drones, and stops unauthorized ones without knocking out
everything ó or creating a safety hazard.
rapid proliferation of startups, of large companies all
proposing systems that deal with the issue in different
ways, suggests to me that there isnít one single
unifying solution for how to bring drones out of the
sky," said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of
the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in
New York. "Every single step of the process is
starts with identifying whether drones are friendly or
drone-detection systems need to be sophisticated enough
to distinguish between slow-moving drones and birds, or
even the signals emitted from drones compared with those
emitted by cellphones.
systems will likely need to integrate a number of
sensors such as acoustics, cameras, radio frequency or
even radar to create "multilayer capability,"
companies and organizations are looking into the
interdiction, or disruptive, aspect of how to safely
deal with a drone threat once it is identified.
Aerospace Corp., researchers are investigating how to
isolate the link between a specific drone and its
controller that could lead to a safe takeover ó rather
than blindly "jamming," or interrupting, all
of the authorized frequencies in that range to cause
confusion and force a potentially unpredictable landing.
It is illegal for nongovernment entities to operate
these kinds of jammers.
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sounds easier than it is. Drones change their frequency
band tens of times a second to ensure an uninterrupted
communications link, said Randy Villahermosa, principal
director of research and program development at
Aerospace Corp. But by using software-defined radios and
integrating the teamís coding knowledge, the
researchers have been able to successfully take over a
droneís controls in several tests, said Esteban Valles,
associate director of digital communication in the
implementation department at Aerospace Corp.
researchers have also worked on pinpointing the position
of a rogue droneís controller, allowing law
enforcement to find the pilot.
have been more than 300 so-called drone incidents in
California between April 2014 and Jan. 31, 2016,
according to an analysis of FAA data by U.S. Sen. Dianne
Feinsteinís office. More than half of these incidents
involved a drone that flew within 5 miles of an airport.
one case from early January, a Cessna agricultural
aircraft reported that it possibly hit a drone about
1,400 feet in the air near Modesto, according to the
analysis. No damage was reported to the aircraft.
Corp. does not sell its products commercially but is
trying to better understand how drone communications
work so it can advise customers on their own technology
solutions, Villahermosa said.
maker DJI introduced its GPS-based geofence system about
three years ago. It prevents "inadvertent"
drone operations in sensitive areas, such as airports or
in Washington, D.C.
drones rely on their GPS receivers to determine where
they are, DJI preprograms certain locations into the
geofencing system. If a drone gets close to one of these
locations, operators first receive a warning, said
Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal
affairs at DJI. If they continue to fly their drone,
they will be stopped by the geofence. The distance
around these sensitive locations can vary.
more recent version includes locations with a temporary
flight restriction, such as sporting events.
which analysts estimate sells up to 70 percent of all
consumer and professional drones, has included the
option of overriding the geofence for wildfires,
allowing a "verified" user to input credit
card information or a mobile phone number to give
firefighting or other authorized personnel the ability
to keep using drones for legitimate efforts.
really a balance between safety and innovation,"
Schulman said. "We donít want to just shut down
the technology in places it can be useful."