How Robotic Security Systems Can Prevent Drone Mishaps and Attacks

Drone pilots with lethal intent on inflicting mass casualties may equip drones with remote firing guns, explosives and bio-hazards.

Let’s explore how “robotic security” can help mitigate emerging unmanned aerial system (UAS) risks from commercially available quadcopters in public gathering scenarios. Airborne threats represent a relatively new threat vector for outdoor concerts, stadiums or any large public gatherings.

Crowd injury risks from foolish and mischievous UAS pilots by far represent the most common UAS threat. The pilot looking for a great stadium or stage video or a cool selfie can do a lot of accidental damage when they loses control and crash from 100 feet into the crowd.

Mischievous or terroristic pilots who want to disrupt events can simply drop something as innocuous as baby powder or flour over a large crowd of people to start pandemonium and risk serious bodily harm from crowd panic.

Truly terroristic pilots intent on inflicting mass casualties may equip drones with remote firing guns, explosives or bio-hazards. Terrorists can be expected to launch a number of drones simultaneously to cause the most harm and chaos.

Damage to each risk ranges from potentially lethal bodily harm or mass casualties to significant financial losses from event disruptions. 

Hobbyist or Terrorist?

When a drone threat appears over a crowd of people, security and law enforcement teams care first and foremost about public safety on the ground below. Law enforcement officials, in the unenviable position of having to make split-second decisions when a UAS or the UAS pilot is spotted, must determine the threat level in the few seconds or minutes from when a UAS is spotted and a deterrent decision must be made.

Differentiation in a timely manner of any given drone’s intent is near impossible by an officer on the ground since terrorists outside the US have flown the same drone that hobbyists and commercial UAS pilots use in the US. We can expect to see the same in the Homeland.

Cure Could Be Worse Than the Problem

To complicate security and law enforcement decision making even further, deterrent actions may cause as much damage as the rogue UAS pilot.

Let’s say an officer has been instructed by superiors to “take down any drone” and the officer pulls out a gun and fires at the drone. What goes up must come down, so if the officer hits the drone it likely will crash into the crowd. If the officer misses the drone, the bullet itself must come down and potentially injure someone in the crowd.

Many counter-UAS companies felt the greater good outweighed antiquated regulations. They built systems to take over a drone in the event of an aerial terror attack using a gun or bomb. So now that you’ve taken over the drone flying the bomb, guess who is responsible for any damage done by the bomb!

Taking Action Before Threats Get Off the Ground

Generally speaking, no UAS should be flown over crowds. A robotic security system to passively detect when a pilot powers up the controller and connects to the UAS offers security and law enforcement personnel the maximum amount of reaction time to the threat.

Such a system can detect the location of the controller as the pilot conducts pre-flight checks. Whether the pilot is malicious or simply foolish, detection and location during automated preflight checks provide the precious early warning time for security personnel.

Planning for Prevention

No pilot is likely to attempt an important mission, whether for good or bad, without surveying the area and conducting test flights. A permanently installed robotic security system passively monitors and provides remote alerts when drones fly in the protected area.

Cooperation between property owners and law enforcement — enabled by automatic communications from a detection-location-alert system — can be a prescription to prevent malicious attacks from ever happening.

Linda Ziemba is founder and CEO of Highlands, N.J.-based Drone Go Home, which leverages Internet security techniques to enhance public safety and personal privacy from drone misuse. She is also a Robolliance Expert Sponsor. To learn more about security applications for robots and drones, visit Robolliance Expert Corner.

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