With their demo video going viral in all the social channels this week and raising lots of questions and controversy over their DroneDefender™ concept, I reached out to talk with Battelle’s PR and development team for a phone interview today and to provide some clarification on just how their system works.
Battelle has been in the national security industry for over 70 years. Info from their press release states:
The Battelle DroneDefender uses radio control frequency disruption technologies to safely stop drones in the air, before they can pose a threat to military or civilian safety. The growing use and availability of commercially-available drones—also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)—is raising concerns among defense, security and law enforcement leaders.
DroneDefender is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, lightweight, point-and-shoot system with a demonstrated range of 400 meters. DroneDefender provides instant threat mitigation, quickly disrupting the drone so that no remote action, including detonation can occur in sensitive areas. This minimizes drone damage and the risk to public safety
“This is just the kind of tool we need to safely counter a drone threat. It can help us in numerous settings, from the White House lawn to bases and embassies overseas; from prisons and schools to historic sites,” said Alex Morrow, technical director on the project. “It easily and reliably neutralizes the threat.” – Dan Stamm, senior researcher leading the project.
Here’s the concept video that’s been making the rounds online this week:
But all of this tends to make people wince at the thought of overreaching government and LEO “taking down” people’s UAS unnecessarily or without proper authority/justification – and the comments and reactions online have also had Battelle’s phones ringing and filling their inboxes with questions and commentary.
So I spoke with two Battelle’s developers, Dan Stamm and Alex Morrow on a conference call today to get more information and address a few concerns that I know have been circling in the social media circles the past few days. From our conversation I can say that I’m impressed with not only the technology they’re developing, but also the care and concern they have for the drone industry as well.
Primarily, the DroneDefender is intended for use by military, LEO and authorized security services in situations where deterring a drone entering airspace that is either classified, unsafe or illegal in a portable and immediate method and without damage or injury to the craft, operator or persons/property on the ground.
If you think of the DroneDefender more as a portable and deliberate “geofencing” for the typical personal drones in use and less of an “attack” on your drone entering an area it shouldn’t be, then the system’s technology and its intended use becomes much more palatable and acceptable by the drone community.
Though the concept video demonstrates the officers using the device and following the disrupted drone all the way down to the ground, in all practicality, that’s not really how it will work. The DroneDefender is a targeted signal scrambler – disrupting the radio control signal from the UAS operator which will activate the craft’s predetermined “Loss of Signal” operation. By default, most personal UAS are set to RTH/RTL so if the signal is scrambled or interfered with, the craft will simply return to the launch point, unharmed and unaffected. If the operator has set it to auto land instead during signal loss, then it will simply land as shown in the video.
Their claim is that most incidents reported to date have been accidental or benign in nature and most likely not intentionally felonious – so a lethal action against the wayward drone isn’t always the appropriate or necessary action. Simply diverting the drone away from the restricted area is the best and safest solution for everyone, and won’t damage the drone’s electronics, compass or GPS components.
As to address current FAA and FCC regulations, Battle is working with the proper agencies and authorities to be sure that when the DroneDefender does come out of production, that all of the questioned issues and legalities will be addressed properly. Again – this isn’t intended for use by your neighbor or the local mall cop.
While the current testing of the prototypes have proven effective with RTF drones like the DJI Phantom and Inspire series, they are working on safely administering effective deterrence on other types of UAS like homebuilt non-GPS guided quads in the near future.
While the prototypes are still actively proving their concepts, they don’t expect to see actual production units in practical application until some time in 2016.
Contact Battelle on their website for more information.