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Tech Times | Companies try hijacking and shooting drones - To keep flying objects out of high-risk areas

Published:Saturday | October 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM


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.

So this year, the Department of the Interior tried something a little more direct.

The agency gave real-time access to data on all active wildfires to two airspace mapping companies as part of a pilot programme.

One 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 won't be able to lift off.

"We 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 Interior.




As 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.

Those 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.

Defence 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 unauthorised drones to go home or land safely, and laser cannons that shoot unwanted drones out of the sky.




The 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.

Earlier 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.

Last 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.

Though the counterdrone industry is still nascent, the global market - including both civilian and military uses - could be worth at least several hundreds of millions of dollars, said Michael Blades, senior industry analyst for aerospace and defence at research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.