Magazine article National Defense

Industry Eyes Opportunities in Counter-Drone Market

Magazine article National Defense

Industry Eyes Opportunities in Counter-Drone Market

Article excerpt

Unmanned aircraft have become ubiquitous on the battlefield as well as at home. Demand has skyrocketed as prices have fallen and capability has grown. Simultaneously, the threat of drones being employed for illicit purposes--such as terrorist attacks or spying--has spooked both the military and the private sector.

To counter the use of rogue drones, industry has built a slew of systems that can track, target and neutralize such systems. Companies are trying to sell them to the federal government and private entities.

One such company is San Francisco-based startup Dedrone. The firm, which focuses on the detection and identification and countering of unmanned aerial systems, has its software installed at 200 different locations worldwide, said Phil Pitsky, federal business development lead at Dedrone.

"The product is in the market and a proven value today," he said. "This is not something that we've drawn up on a white board and said, 'We hope it will work and if it doesn't we'll fix it.'"

The company uses a multi-layered approach to detect unmanned aerial vehicles, he said. The first line of defense is radio frequency sensors that can tell when a remote control is communicating with a drone, and what kind of system it is. The RF sensors have a range of about 2 kilometers.

"When I pick up that handset and I turn that controller on and I talk to that drone, it has a very unique transmission protocol," he said.

The company reverse engineers that transmission protocol and builds a library or a catalog of those signatures, he explained.

Dedrone also uses mounted video cameras to spot incoming drones, Pitsky said. Using sophisticated video analytics, the company's software looks for movement or changes in the field of view of the camera.

"When things change in that video... what we're doing is running that through ... an analytics server, and saying, 'Does this marry up to things that we've told you look like a drone? Or does it look like a bird? Or does it look like a car or does it look like an airplane flying through the sky?" he said.

Depending on the type of camera employed, that can provide a user with 150 to 400 meters of coverage, he added.

Using information gleaned from sensors, the company's software--which is called DroneTracker--is able to alert users to when an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, Pitsky said.

For a time, the company focused exclusively on the commercial sector, but recently opened an office in Sterling, Virginia, to help get its foot in the door in the federal marketplace, Pitsky said.

Dedrone recently entered with Bat-telle into a memorandum of understanding that paved the way for collaboration between the companies, Pitsky said. Battelle's DroneDefender product is a man portable, non-kinetic counter-UAS platform. The system, which resembles a rifle, can be used to disrupt the control link between a small drone and its pilot.

"We've participated in a few exercises together jointly and demonstrated the capability which has been really, really successful," he said.

Working with a company like Battelle that is already well established in the defeat aspect of counter-UAS is important, he added.

"We need to stay focused on what we do best and what's our core market, and that is detection," Pitsky said. "We wanted to partner with someone that we felt was the market leader in the defeat mechanisms, to be able to provide an end-to-end solution that, one, was cost competitive and, two, provided the best of both worlds for an offering to the U.S." government.

Battelle recently released the second version of the DroneDefender, said Kimberly Stambler, business development and sales leader at Battelle Mission and Defense Technologies.

The original system came with a backpack where the unit's battery and electronics were kept. Now "everything is contained in the rifle so [there are] no more wires," she said. …

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