Counter-drone technologies could improve safety and security, but could have unintended effects
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or “drones,” have a variety of important uses, from search and rescue to cinematography. But this technology can also cause problems. For example, in January 2019, a drone was spotted near Newark Liberty International Airport, disrupting all air traffic activity for over an hour.
Counter drone technology can detect and, if necessary, block, capture or disable unauthorized drones. Today’s WatchBlog article takes a look at our new Science & Tech Spotlight on counter drone technologies.
How does counter drone technology work?
Counter drone technologies generally fall into two categories: detection and mitigation.
Sensing technologies include infrared devices to track heat signatures, radio frequency sensing of signals from a drone’s remote control, and acoustic methods to recognize unique drone engine sounds.
Mitigation technologies are those that can repel or intercept a drone. For example, spurious signals can interfere with communications between the drone and its operator. Other technologies may try to capture the drone, shoot it down, or disable it using trained falcons.
Counter-Drone technology detects and blocks an unauthorized drone
Who can use counter drone technology?
Nationally, only four federal agencies have been authorized to deploy counter-drone technologies under certain circumstances. For example:
- The Department of Defense could use counter-drone technology to secure national military bases.
- The Department of Energy could use it to protect sensitive nuclear facilities.
- The Department of Justice could use it to secure prisons and prevent drones from bringing contraband inside.
- The Department of Homeland Security could use it to protect large gatherings, like the Super Bowl.
What are the challenges of counter-drone technology?
One of the main challenges with current counter drone technology is that it is not always effective. For example, detection systems may ignore a drone due to interference or mistake a bird for a drone. And mitigation systems can have limited range or fail against fast or unpredictable drones.
Another challenge concerns unintended consequences. For example, counter drone technology can collect personal information or interfere with nearby communications. Systems that disable drones can cause damage from errant projectiles or falling drones. Therefore, counter drone technology is usually customized to suit a specific purpose and location.
A final challenge is that no other entities, other than the four federal agencies listed above, are authorized by the federal government to deploy this technology. Local agencies typically rely on a small number of federal counter drone units to respond to drone threats in their area.
Key questions for decision makers
With more than 2 million drones expected to be in use in the United States by 2024, the risks to critical sites and security are expected to increase. This increase raises several questions for policy makers, including:
- What research and development could improve counter-drone solutions while minimizing unintended effects?
- What are the trade-offs for allowing law enforcement and others to use counter-drone technology?
- What is the appropriate level of coordination and supervision?
Learn more about counter drone technologies in our new Science and Technology Spotlight.