Just before Christmas, one of the UK's busiest airports, Gatwick, was shutdown for over a day due to a suspected drone in the area. It caused chaos with anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people being affected. The front pages of the newspapers says it all: "How can this be?"
As a bit of background to the story, at Gatwick (and also at Heathrow just after Christmas), someone said they saw a drone and that was enough to shutdown the entire airport. Stories expanded in the Twitter-sphere where more people also said they saw something thereby ratcheting up the concern. Others claimed it was just a plastic bag floating about and not a drone at all. Incredibly, some believed it was Sussex Police's own drone they had seen. This last point was apparently so plausible that it led to some very embarrassing statements, retractions and clarification from the authorities. After searching for the suspect drone for several days it was never found or proven that it even existed. Hard to believe isn't it?
I thought I would have a look in the Idea Catalog to see what technologies exist for such a scenario. As you would expect, there is plenty of choice, so it seems incredible that our major airports didn't have anything in place. I hope other industrial sites around the world with potentially hazardous infrastructure are not in the same position.
Having looked at the catalog, there are two functions to meet. The first is to detect the drone and the second is to render it harmless. Here's a brief round up in case you are stuck at an airport due to a "drone sighting" and need a rant!
The drone sighting at Gatwick was a visual sighting from a passer by. Although visual sighting is one method of detection there are two other techniques that can be used; radar-based systems and electronic signal detection. The radar-based systems are often used in military environments and an example is the SharpEye from Kelvin Hughes designed to be vehicle or trailer mounted on a single mast. The second type monitors the electronic signals used by drones and the AeroScope by DJI can identify the vast majority of popular drones on the market.
Once the drone has been detected, you then need to render it harmless. This is called "Interdiction" which is a military term and just means to delay, disrupt or destroy something. There are two basic methods used; one is electronic and the other is physical. Nightfighter by Steel Rock is an electronic system that jams the drone's radio transmissions. An alternative approach is the Skywall 100 which is a shoulder held system that launches a net to catch the drone. They also do one that looks like a missile battery system for multiple drone attacks that I imagine would make the risk assessment for operations rather challenging but testing and commissioning rather fun.
Sandia Labs is doing an interesting research project on Temporal Frequency Analysis. This is a video-based drone detection system that analyses pixel fluctuations in recorded footage of a drone and designed to overcome limitations in radar and radio signal detection methods.
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