The age of the drone is here.
Not only do Americans love these gadgets, but gosh darn it, the little drones are cool, inexpensive tech toys that provide a platform for everything and anything the user can think up.
But they're not always used for wholesome activities. Besides their legitimate uses (package delivery, filming, photography, and even firefighting) they're perfect for illegal activities like spying, theft, drug distribution, prison breaks, IEDs, and even murder (a teen recently test fired a 9mm from a drone successfully and scared the beejesus out of the internet).
A private drone with imaging capabilities flies high. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Adding to the problem for law enforcement is the fact that drones are practically untraceable. Tracking a signal from the drone to the user is virtually impossible with the billions of signals flying around our atmosphere at any given time. So using drones for crime or terrorism is a cheap, effective means with little chance of being caught (drones don't talk in interrogation rooms).
Add a chem-bio weapon to the mix and things get downright scary.
The age of the drone and all the ways it can benefit or interfere with your life is upon us, so the next question is, what can we do to defeat them, both on the battlefield and on Main Street? And if you do take one out of the sky, how do you prove the drone was spying on you and not the neighbors? And if you destroyed it, do you have to pay for it? What if you shoot down a police drone? Even worse — what if you shoot down a drone that crashed into a house, a playground, or a car and caused casualties?
Most people turn to one obvious solution for drones – guns. But besides being illegal, shooting blindly into the air can cause casualties when the rounds return to earth. Fortunately some drone defeating technologies are making their way to the average consumer.
Geofencing programs a set of coordinates into the drone's software that prevents it from taking off or entering restricted airspace. NoFlyZone.org allows anyone to register an address in a database so drones will avoid flying over it.
If done right, the drone basically refuses to fly into restricted airspace, but this service is voluntary and doesn't do anything to block the drone's camera. It can still spy on you from a distance.
2. Acoustic Shields
Several companies use acoustic technology to separate the sounds of birds and other flying objects and alert the user when a drone enters the airspace. But this technology is restricted in the sense that it only detects drones. It doesn't do anything to defeat them.
Some businesses offer malware that infects approaching drones and drops them out of the air like a bag of hammers. The problem is getting the virus into the onboard computer, which is not that easy.
4. Drones to kill drones
What better way to take out a drone than with a killer drone? Fight fire with a bigger fire. Want a drone with a cattle prod attached to it to zap weaker drones? It's coming.
On the military front, several technologies are being developed. Battelle's Drone Defender looks like an M-16 from Flash Gordon and has the ability to disrupt the user's control link to their drone as well as an ability to sync with a GPS network. It has been deployed in Iraq by US forces.
Openworks Engineering developed Skywall, a bazooka-like shoulder-fired weapon that casts a large net around the drone to capture it. Airbus has developed a sophisticated jamming system to protect their customers in flight, but jamming is illegal in the U.S., so don't hold your breath that it will be available here anytime soon.
The Army recently unveiled its 50mm Bushmaster cannon projectile, but this is more for larger drones that require a large caliber round to defeat them.
Dutch police have developed a truly innovative (and badass) way to take out drones – trained eagles.
Obviously there are a lot of legitimate and good uses for UAVs, not just for the hobbyist or the filmmaker, but for law enforcement as well. Police could use UAVs to provide intelligence on dangerous situations, pursue felons, or disseminate riot control agents against violent crowds. Commercial companies can use them to paint houses, deliver aid to injured hikers, spray crops, wash windows on skyscrapers, deliver water or foam to high level fires, and even perform high altitude repairs. Virtually any application you can think of can be accomplished by a drone and a little creativity.
But with that ingenuity comes a price – the evildoer with an equal amount of creativity and a nefarious cause. The drone market is here; hopefully the counter-drone market will catch up soon.