The 'Drone Defender' uses radio waves to stop drones in midair, will be sold to the federal government starting next year.
To deal with unwanted drones flying around, several people around the United States have been making do with shotguns. But now there's a weapon specifically designed to knock drones out of the sky without totally destroying them.
The Battelle DroneDefender is a thoroughly dystopian looking gun-type gadget that uses targeted radio pulses to neutralize in-flight drones and force them to land or hover. As you can see in the video, our drone-downing protagonist is able to stop a DJI Phantom in its tracks and cause it to land.
"The system works by disrupting radio control frequencies between the drone and the pilot," Dan Stamm, who developed the DroneDefender, told me. "It basically makes the drone think that it's gone out of range. The drone enters into its safety protocols which include one of three options. It'll either hover in position until the pilot can regain control link, it lands so the pilot can recover it physically, or it returns to its point of origin."
Though other companies have tried to make drone-neutralizing devices before, this is the first device I've seen that is able to knock it out of the sky without purposefully damaging it, a capability that police and security guards have wanted for years. A drone without a safety protocol would presumably just keep flying.
Battelle is a major government contractor that helps manage some of the country's national laboratories and regularly makes scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, so, unlike some of the startup drone defense systems that have failed before, Battelle's device very much seems like it will one day be in the hands of law enforcement around the country.
Stamm says Battelle developed the device totally in-house and already has several federal agencies lined up to potentially purchase it once it becomes available next year.
The device should work with all privately available drones, but Stamm acknowledged that it may be possible for drone companies or hobbyists to "continue refining their technology" so that their drones can't be disrupted.
"At this point, there is no reason why our system won't be effective against all commercial drones in the United States," he said.
Stamm noted that the DroneDefender would be useful for controlling drones over wildfires, public events, or other sensitive airspace. In several instances, police have attempted to force drones down with their helicopters or have interrupted pilots while they're flying, which is usually more dangerous than asking them to bring a drone down safely. The DroneDefender could potentially provide a safer method of stopping a drone.
"We're not specifically doing damage to the drone, which is good policy," Stamm said. "Purposefully doing damage to aircraft, even by federal agencies, is a big challenge without rules of engagement, so that's one of the reasons we're pursuing this route."
For now, the device can only be used by the federal government because the radio frequencies it uses are governed by the Federal Communications Commission. That means consumers probably won't ever be able to buy a DroneDefender, either.