Why we need it and what form it might take.
I was walking down the UAS-tech-laden hall of the 2018 Commercial UAV Expo when I spied two booths touting anti-drone technology. I thought to myself, “My issue is the opposite—keeping my UAS in the air. I don’t need any help crashing it.”
Yet even anti-drone technology has potential for criminal misuse.
Let’s back up a little. Remember last July when I asked the theoretical question, “Will Drones Replace Fireworks?” It was about how drone shows were replacing firework shows especially in the drought-stricken U.S. West. Apparently, these shows are so popular that now they’re everywhere; even the New York city’s famous Rockettes are jumping onto the drone-show bandwagon.
Back to anti-drone tech. At the end of October, a drone show in Hong Kong was disrupted by someone using anti-drone technology, probably a GPS jammer. In this instance, 46 drones literally dropped from the skies causing $127,500 in damage—fortunately no one was hurt. Now I admit, the chances that anyone reading this newsletter is planning to put on a drone show are vanishingly small. Yet, as anti-drone technology becomes more mainstream, anyone using a drone—even for legal, FAA-compliant commercial work (surveying and mapping, for example)—could become a target.
Who’s against drones?
Who would employ anti-drone tech against peaceful, commercial UAS operators? Two possibilities include:
- eco-terrorists/hacktivists out to sabotage commercial, residential, and energy developments, and
- drone-haters who see every UAS as a symbol of governmental intrusion and oppression.
Before you dismiss these examples as a paranoid fantasy, I can assure you I’ve seen plenty of both. As to sabotaging development (commercial and residential), I’m aware of everything from truly vile vandalism to felony-level arson. Drone hating is a regional past time near me; a local town in my area went so far as to issue “Drone Hunting Licenses.” You don’t know how much I wish I were kidding about this.
How do we stop them?
I know what you’re thinking: “Why wouldn’t the bad guy just use a firearm?” Good point. Drones have been and probably will continue to be shot out of the sky by shotguns and rifles—no high tech needed. How do we know this? These folks have been caught and have made the news. Yet, popping off shotguns is a noisy endeavor that tends to attract law enforcement attention, something criminals would rather avoid. Sophisticated electronic anti-drone technology is silent and thus has the advantage of stealth. So what to do?
Hardening and shielding the vital electronics may become necessary if this technology does indeed become widespread.
But how does one shield the bottom of a GNSS module from evil anti-drone rays while still allowing the top to be open to receive GNSS signals? I wonder if an open bowl-like shield structure could be employed, one that protects from harmful anti-drone signals from below while still allowing GNNS data to stream in from the top.
Maybe this would work, but hey, I’m just the idea guy. I’m handing this idea over to my unpaid interns; they can figure out the details.
This article appeared in xyHt‘s e-newsletter, Pangaea. We email it twice a month, and it covers a variety of unusual geospatial topics in a conversational tone. You’re welcome to subscribe to the e-newsletter here. (You’ll also receive the once-monthly Field Notes newsletter with your subscription.)