"Prepare for the drone apocalypse" is the alarming slogan being used by a U.S. company to advertise a range of shotgun cartridges which reckless and irresponsible gun owners could use to take out a drone.
At the other extreme U.S. aerospace giant Boeing has developed a high power laser which is designed to down an unmanned aerial vehicle by burning holes in it.
Here in the UK we're trying to stay safe while still being subtle and sophisticated. OpenWorks Engineering in the North East of England is developing SkyWall, a drone defence system that sounds like something from the world of James Bond or even World of Warcraft.
Skywall Drone Defence System
OpenWorks are playing things very close to their chest at the moment and, for the time being at least, all we can say is that their equipment is designed to bring a threatening drone down safely by using a net. We can't tell you how it's deployed because we've been sworn to secrecy but it's designed to do its job with minimal fuss - no loud explosions or drones bursting into flames and causing collateral damage as they plunge to the ground.
Nets have been tried by other companies but all the ones that we've seen have been deployed by another drone. It'll be interesting to find out more about the SkyWall system in due course.
The Marketing Director at OpenWorks, James Cross says "Five years ago drones were seen as high military technology and now the number of international news reports about them having near misses with planes, flying over nuclear facilities or dropping things into prisons is growing every day.
"As the technology becomes cheaper and more widely used the number of incidents will inevitably increase. Authorities such as the Police Force, Prison Service and Counter Terrorism Units have already acknowledged this as a growing threat."
A security alert in Germany highlighted the problem. Chancellor Angela Merkel was speaking at an open air election event when a drone flew over the crowd and towards the stage. Even when the drone landed it was much too close for comfort.
As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security puts it: “While many encounters are not malicious in nature, they underscore the potential security vulnerabilities that could be used by by adversaries to leverage drones as part of an attack."
OpenWorks say SkyWall is due to be launched in Spring 2016 but we plan to bring you more details before then.
You may have to wait twice as long for Boeing's Combat Laser Weapon System.
According to Wired, Boeing tested the system recently in an industrial park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When a target was exposed to a full-power laser for just two seconds, it went up in flames. Technicians would be able to set up the laser system in a matter of minutes, and it would be controlled by an Xbox 360 controller and a laptop with custom targeting software.
Getting firm with firmware
For a subtler approach legally enforced software updates could be used to protect potential targets. That's already been done in Washington, USA after the incident with a drone on the White House lawn. By introducing mandatory firmware updates for consumer drones critical areas ranging from local airports to government or defence establishments could be geofenced at least from law abiding pilots.
An aviation chart of the south east of England. It's busy.
DJI's software already incorporates no fly zones and the company recently allowed qualified commercial pilots who have been properly trained to apply to have individual zones lifted on a temporary basis. Commercial drone pilots would then be expected to liaise with Air Traffic Control and the relevant authorities before flying their missions.
Electronic jamming might seem like an obvious solution, particularly as consumer grade drones use commercial communications equipment including WiFi and Bluetooth. Jamming however is limited in range and can also interfere with other systems.
For a lower tech, and quite frankly a lower IQ solution, look no further than Drone Munition. They're shotguns cartridges which, it's claimed by Snake River Shootings Products in Idaho, USA, have been developed especially for shooting drones out of the sky. People who know more about these things than I do claim they're bog standard cartridges with a touch of marketing stardust sprinkled on them. "Prepare for the drone apocalypse" the marketing hype says.
Even in gun-toting America where drone flying regulations are still evolving, it's still illegal to cause criminal damage to someone else's property. Looking on the bright side though, the shotgun pellets are said to be lead free and kind to the environment.
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