Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have signed a licencing agreement with Florida company Drone Defense Systems, covering new technology to detect and commandeer unauthorized drones to a safe landing. The technology, developed by Embry-Riddle faculty member Dr. Houbing Song, suggests a safe and affordable way to neutralize rogue drones, without having to shoot them down or force them to crash-land.
Drone Defense Systems LLC receive exclusive rights to commercialize the technology under the agreement. In addition, company Founder and CEO Sotirios George Kaminis will work with Song and Embry-Riddle to further refine the concept, build a prototype, and pursue related products.
The technology works by leveraging a network of wireless acoustic sensors to identify a flying drone. To distinguish drones from birds, Song and two of his PhD students – Yongxin Liu and Jian Wang – built a neural network system that continuously learns to improve accuracy. Once the system confirms a drone, the acoustic sensors, working in tandem with beacon receivers, transmit information to a control centre.
If the subject drone is on an unauthorized flight, Song’s system uses sophisticated pattern-recognition techniques to decipher its video-streaming channel, and then interrupts the broadcast with a warning message. “For each drone,” Liu explained, “the acoustic pattern might be a little different, but we can tell them apart, just as anyone can distinguish between a songbird and the noise of a crow.” The system can also hijack the drone’s communication channel to trigger its pre-determined return flight, or otherwise trick the drone into leaving the area.
Kaminis explained the technology this way: “It disrupts communication between the pilot and the drone. It detects the drone, finds out what language the drone speaks, activates an emulation system that mimics the drone’s language, and snatches control away from the pilot.”
A U.S. patent application has been filed by Embry-Riddle, Song and his Ph.D. students Liu and Wang.
Existing strategies for combating rogue drones range from dispatching birds of prey to shooting bullets, nets or channel-jamming electromagnetic noise at unauthorized drones. Military and corporate drone-jamming technologies do exist, Kaminis said, but the cost of those systems makes them inaccessible for smaller airports or private venues. By comparison, Song’s system could be manufactured at lower cost, he added.
It would also work over long distances and in a variety of settings. “Our solution is friendly,” Song said. “Rather than destroying the drone, we guide it to a safe landing place.”
Drone Defense Systems already market another counter-drone technology, but that solution is considered a weapon because it jams drones and makes them fall out of the sky. The new Embry-Riddle technology is non-intrusive, so it is ideal for civilian settings such as large outdoor entertainment arenas and airports, and easy to export as it doesn’t fall under ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). That said, the ability to safely bring a rogue drone safely to land clearly has some military applications as the potential for ballistic payloads increases.