Yesterday the Associated Press in Tokyo reported that a drone “containing traces of radiation was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office, sparking concerns about drones and their possible use for terrorist attacks.” Everyone should be concerned. What we are seeing are the early stages of a much larger threat. Drones will help humanity in more ways than we can possibly imagine; however they can—and will—be used to commit evil acts as well.
The idea that drones can be used to harass or injure someone isn’t a novel idea in the least. Activists have been using them extensively to harass businesses. Last year a drone accidentally injured one of the runners at an Australian triathlon. What if someone wanted to do it on purpose?
There are three ways we should deal with this new kind of threat: detect, capture/destroy, and conduct forensics. We concentrate on detection as our core business. For this article I’ll just focus on detection since the perpetrator in Tokyo landed the drone and left it there. This eliminates the need for capturing it and normal police forensics will take over once the drone is in hand.
In this case, radio frequency detection should be the main detection method. The urban environment would probably degrade detection about 100 meters from the maximum which means our GPS-aware Drone Detector™ would only work up to 400 meters here. Audio detection would have been basically nullified by the ambient noise in that area. As was noted in my Boston Marathon article, background noise will cause audio detectors to fail. Video and thermal might have picked them up but they are only effective to about 100 meters so they wouldn’t pick up the drone until it was very close. That leaves radar as a last resort. Unfortunately the technology to pick up these very small drones hasn’t been perfected yet. You can tune radar to pick up small objects but then it will pick up birds as well as drones—lots of false alarms.
In the picture below I illustrate the relative detection ranges. Starting from the center of the building where the drone was found you can see two circles. The larger one represents a 400 meter radius (radio frequency) and the smaller one represents a 100 meter radius (video, thermal). In our case, we would have picked up the drone pretty far out and tracked it as it came in. Next we would have pulled out the GPS information for both the drone and the pilot to store in our logs. Finally, if the drone passed a threshold, we would have sent a countermeasure drone from one of our strategic partners to capture it or find the pilot and take their picture. At this time, capturing drones comes with some legal issues so the case law around this has yet to be established definitively.
Drones can (and will) be used for bad reasons but there are companies out there, like ours, who are trying to keep you safe. With each incident the public grows more aware of the problem and, here at Drone Labs, we are focused on a solution.