Doug Toppin's Blog

My thoughts on technology and other stuff

Drone Interdiction

I think that a new business area of “drone interdiction” is rapidly approaching. What I mean by this is that drone (unmanned air vehicle) technology is evolving so quickly that there will be a need for entities ranging from individuals, law enforcement all the way up through governments and military organizations that will need to be able to counter them. The reason that I’m using the term interdiction is that it is not necessarily easy or even possible to prevent their use. For example, if you observe a drone that is observing you or intruding in your area for whatever reason what can you do about it? Individuals that might be the targets of drone use would include celebrities and law enforcement personnel during the execution of their duties. I’m confident that paparazzi would be willing to expend a few thousand dollars to buy a drone just to get a few minutes of video taken though the windows or overhead of the house of a celebrity in anticipation of being able to make a sale. They likely would also be willing to make the same expense to record or even live stream a police standoff or hostage situation from either overhead of an officer or the perpetrator(s). For the people being observed being able to interdict a drone becomes very complicated from a variety of perspectives including the ability, legality and safety of the methods involved. I’ve thought of a sequence of events, things to consider and decisions that are necessary for and during a potential interdiction.

  • detecting the drone – can you see or hear it? it may be small and battery powered so likely quiet at any distance and difficult to observe
  • can you determine who is operating it? they may not be immediately visible or even be concealed in a vehicle such as an enclosed van
  • is it doing anything that is illegal or unsafe that involves you? if you damage it or someone else what happens if it is determined that your actions were unwarranted?
  • can you legally take action against it?
  • what actions can you take against it?
  • are you potentially going to hurt anyone else with whatever action that you take against it?

The next question becomes what actions are even possible to interdict the use of a drone? If you are able to determine who is operating the drone then you might be able to take action against them but the likelihood of that diminishes with the sophistication of the drone. Someone with a $300 consumer drone/toy will have a limited range but a multi-thousand dollar done will be farther away. The drone itself may be hundreds of feet overhead or at a distance and using good optics to observe you. If you are unable to find the operator then what actions are possible again the drone itself? They might include any of the following:

  • interrupt the communications with the drone, however this is likely technically difficult and if possible at all it is unpredictable what the drone might do (crash, hit someone or damage property), also note that the drone may be entirely autonomous and operating without direct command and control over it and merely broadcasting/recording video
  • interfere with the view that the drone has (close your window blinds or simple leave the area for example), this may be unrealistic depending on the situation
  • use a laser that is directed at the drone to impede the view of the optical system but this is very technically complex
  • damage the drone by affecting a propeller or the vehicle itself but this again leads to a potential safety issue

To damage the vehicle you have at least a few methods that include throwing a net over it or impacting it with something such as an air rifle or gun. Neither of these is easy at any distance.

Another interesting area to explore might be an interdiction drone which attempts to impede or impact the vehicle. This is of course very difficult but entertaining to consider from a technology perspective.

The primary point that I’m making here is that technology is now available to provide an enticing method for someone to use to obtain video that they may profit from and the technology to interdict for that is much farther behind.

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