Twice this week, football games in the U.S. were abruptly halted while stadium security teams attempted to deal with rogue drones over the field. In a crowded stadium, “just shooting them down” is not only illegal and unlikely to be effectively, it’s also extremely dangerous. DRONELIFE get the inside view on new cUAS technology that could help protect sporting events from unwanted drone incursions.
September 25, a University of Washington Huskies game was interrupted late in the fourth quarter when Stanford coach David Shaw alerted security of an unauthorized drone flying over the field. One day later, on September 26, a Seattle Seahawks game against the Atlanta Falcons was halted in the fourth quarter as NFL security cleared all players off the field when an unauthorized drone was spotted “over or near” the stadium. While these drones did no damage other than cause an annoying delay, and may have been flown accidently or carelessly into the airspace, security must be concerned about deliberate sabotage or accident which could cause injury to players or crowd.
Most counter UAS (cUAS) or counter drone solutions rely upon a three step strategy: detect, identify, and mitigate. For stadiums, that means that a rogue drone must first be found in the airspace – hopefully before it flies directly overhead. Then, it must be identified as unauthorized, as opposed to official or authorized aircraft taking footage of the game. Thirdly, it must be safely brought to the ground.
Current US laws prohibit the disabling of aircraft in all but the most extreme circumstances, by all but a very few authorized agencies. This means, for example, that the DoD or Homeland Security may be authorized to disable a drone they identify as a terrorist threat at the Super Bowl: but local police or stadium security at pro or college football games may not legally bring a drone down.
D-Fend Solutions is a cUAS technology firm that has protected public events and major figures including the Pope from drone threats. Jeffrey Starr, CMO of D-Fend, comments on the recent events and explains the options for mitigating drone threats.
Why Worry about Rogue Drones?
“In recent years there have been numerous incidents of baseball, football, and soccer games halted for extended periods when someone sent unauthorized drones into stadiums and over fields,” says Starr. “In addition to delaying games, drones could also potentially be used to record unauthorized videos of game play, interfere with official broadcasts and in the worst case carry potentially dangerous payloads. Commercial drones are readily available, inexpensive and can cause serious problems at packed sporting events.”
What About “Jamming” Drone Communications Systems to Bring them Down?
While “jamming” sounds good, there are several inherent issues with that strategy, Starr explains. “Conventional legacy counter-drone technologies such as jammers, or hybrid solutions that use jammers for mitigation, may not be an optimal solution for sports and entertainment venues, for several reasons,” he says. “Jamming can affect other communications, which could potentially hamper live broadcast and/or security and operational communications at the venue.
Another factor for consideration is the fact that many sports and concert venues today utilize drones to capture video footage of events. Some counter-drone methods may fail to distinguish between friendly and rogue hostile drones. Also, jammed drones can behave unpredictably, possibly dangerously plummeting to the ground. Finally, jamming is temporary and the rogue drone’s pilot may retake control when the jamming stops, bringing the situation back to square one.”
Jamming has issues – and “just shooting them down” is illegal, impractical, and dangerous. “Kinetic counter-drone solutions, which involve physically shooting down or capturing the drone, are risky in crowded stadiums. The projectile, the falling drone, or the resulting created debris could injure players and fans and cause damage,” Starr comments.
New cUAS Technology for Crowded Areas: RF Cyber Takeover
“New generation technologies, such as RF Cyber takeover, can detect unauthorized or rogue drones, identify them, and then automatically take control over the drone and land it in a safe, designated area,” Starr says.
“An alert zone can be set on the outer perimeter of the stadium, with multiple protection zones blanketing the venue and surrounding areas. Such an approach empowers authorized security personnel with full control and protects players, fans, security personnel, concession staff, broadcasters, and everyone else involved. Continuity can be ensured, without interrupting a game or exacerbating the incident.”
As cUAS tech gets more sophisticated, and authorized drones performing legitimate commercial missions become more common, keeping unauthorized drones out of the airspace becomes ever more important. With safer mitigation means available, cUAS technology needs to be implemented more widely.
Read more about D-Fend and cUAS technology:
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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