A team of British technology firms has developed a “death ray” for drones that can knock an unmanned aerial vehicle out of the sky by turning it off in midair up to a mile away.
“If I can see it, I can kill it,” said Rick Sondag, executive vice-president of Liteye Systems, which sells the device, and who debuted it at the Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Expo in Las Vegas this week.
Interest in drone-killers has grown as unmanned aerial vehicles have taken off. Their uses might be readily apparent to people who’ve seen hobbyist drone fliers buzzing too close to their property lines, but there are law enforcement and governmental applications too.
In July, a drone dropped heroin, marijuana and tobacco into a prison recreation yard. The following month another contraband delivery drone allegedly on its way to a prison was nabbed by cops before it got off the ground in Maryland. In the second case, local law enforcement said it wasn’t the first time they’d dealt with the problem.
There’s also the matter of airport safety and the ongoing trouble with curious drone photographers trying to get pictures of natural disasters, especially where fire department helicopters are trying to unload payloads of water or airlift out stranded victims. At the expo, the parks service had an entire booth devoted to handing out posters and leaflets with slogans such as “If You Fly, We Can’t”.
Liteye’s Anti-UAV Defense System (Auds) is a set of beige boxes atop two square posts, and looks like a particularly menacing pair of weathervanes. The drone-destroying vane has a long cylinder that sticks out like a rifle barrel and two smaller cylinders on one side.
The cylinders are a set of directional radio antennas that works like a gun. The radio spectrum allotted to drone users is fairly narrow, so a brief, focussed broadcast is enough to bring down a targeted drone without affecting “friendly” UAVs or anyone’s cellphone reception for long.
Liteye, based in Colorado, was named distributor in the US and Canada for the device earlier this year by its three manufacturers: Enterprise, Chess Systems and Blighter, which are all based in the UK. Liteye is trying to sell to airports and “the homeland security market”, according to Blighter.
It’s not the first anti-drone device to appear this year. Boeing debuted a giant laser gun last month, touting its ability to knock out drones from safe distances.
“If you were on the receiving end of laser energy, you would have no idea where it was coming from or what was happening,” explained Boeing engineer Isaac Neal in the company’s promo video.
Sondag is hopeful that his radio gun could help fend off tighter regulation of the burgeoning drone industry. “The US government, like everyone else, has critical infrastructure and if they don’t feel like they can protect it, they’ll pass laws that will hamper progress and hamper current use,” Sondag said.