Monitoring drones Regulate the sky

AeroScope / DJI

How will businesses and citizens deal with drone surveillance and airborne activity tracking as commercial applications such as retail drone delivery expand?

The following is a guest post by Sergio Rodriguez of Access Partnership, global policy advisors developing new markets for the world’s latest technology. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor pays guest posts.

Keeping an eye on the sky: what’s next for drone surveillance

In recent years, the public perception of drones has changed from undesirable, unexpected, and sometimes alien devices. Technological artifacts threaten our well-being and our privacy and create immediate panic as soon as a hum of propellers disturbs the harmony of the nearby airspace. However, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are now more of a human extension than an intruder. The integration of drones into logistics, security, exploration, agriculture, and even passenger transportation predicts the drone market to grow by $ 129.2 billion by 2025 (source: Forbes). In order to ensure a smooth further integration of drones into our daily life, the development of an effective monitoring of drone activities will be an essential part.

The tracking of drone movement needs to evolve with the growth of the industry, the trend of drone trackers needs to aim at developing user-friendly interfaces to provide real-time drone traffic information. The early stages of UAV radars and detectors have gradually adapted to the latest versions from the leading drone manufacturers. This enables real-time monitoring of UAVs in action, e.g. parcel delivery, help with the construction of buildings or the irrigation of an arable field. This will also help mitigate the persistent malicious use of drone technology by identifying the drones based on their use.

Drone surveillance technology continues to evolve until any smartphone or computer is turned into a real-time drone motion monitor. Similarly, some websites and apps offer live air traffic updates like Freedar UK. Many of the tech giants in the drone industry and cellular are now investing in developing effective methods of creating digital platforms that enable the integration of a new type of air travel: the unpiloted team.

According to the latest Business Insider publications, the forecast 2.4 million consumer drone deliveries by 2023 will arouse great interest among logistics giants to implement and share real-time information progress from uncontrolled deliveries. An effective and calming way to monitor drones in real time is to provide a trusted method of tracking and locating UAVs during their missions. The predicted growth of drones will certainly help relieve the congested roads in the largest urban areas, as well as reach the most remote locations in rural settlements – and tracking methods will play an essential role. The vision of technological growth is to create an airway, so to speak, in which drone traffic can coexist harmoniously and in a controlled manner.

Monitoring drones – the counter-drone ecosystem

The development of the detection and defense of drones has experienced a boom in the last 5 years with interesting and disruptive developments by well-known companies in the industry. Drone detectors and trackers vary based on cost, range and functionality. If we turn the clock back a few years, we will find the groundbreaking drone radars that report every little air activity in an adapted rudimentary platform (e.g. Echodyne). However, since UAVs have also advanced exponentially, these companies have adapted their products accordingly.

Today, the market offers a wide range of low-cost drone detection solutions that incorporate state-of-the-art communication systems such as passive radio frequency (RF) detectors that analyze the activity of the frequency spectrum and detect the presence of complex communication protocols of the drone using machine learning and artificial intelligence. (e.g. DroneShield, Dedrone, drone defense). In addition, rock stars of mobile communication such as phased array antennas have made a triumphant advance into the world of drone detection by adapting military equipment into user-friendly and easy-to-install drone detectors (e.g. Aaronia, Radiansa, Echodyne). With particular attention to the latest versions of Echodyne, such as EchoGuard, which not only offer exceptional and compact drone radars, but also provide an easy way to combine their effective counter-drone radars with additional equipment to effectively monitor the skies and create what is much needed System interoperability to lead the way in future developments. In addition to sophisticated hardware, manufacturers have tended to create digital platforms to vividly display all of the data collected from their products, which comes together in a single element: a website or app.

Mobile applications or websites are undoubtedly the perfect entry points to inform the user about the latest flight activities in his area. This trend becomes a guideline for future developments as the user may be more convenient to look at a map and a moving drone icon to locate their movement rather than using bulky devices and a typical black screen that provides incomprehensible readings. In addition to the hardware revolution in drone detection systems, classification needs to be another important aspect of unmanned aerial travel, and this needs to be supported by enabling regulation of intelligent detection systems as well. This function determines the purpose of each individual vehicle that is traveling in a monitored airspace. By classifying drone activity in the sky, not only is the programmed and expected movement of the service UAVs better controlled, but it also warns of potentially malicious drones in the vicinity of an area of ​​interest in good time.

Consumer drone sales to retailers exceeded $ 1.25 billion in North America alone last year, according to Statista. However, only 869,994 drones are currently registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): 350,608 of these are commercial vehicles and 515,997 are recreational vehicles. Similar proportions are given by the UK Civil Service. This suggests an obvious trend in most registered vehicles that are intended for personal, non-commercial use: which, despite being registered, could be exposed to malicious purposes. Illegal or unauthorized drones could disturb the privacy of a household, smuggle illegal goods or, in the worst case, drop explosives on a target. For this purpose, the classification of UAVs for the drone detectors and trackers must be a priority and this is an increasing trend in the latest versions.

Is drone surveillance a job for manufacturers?

As the leading drone manufacturer in the world market, DJI has taken the first step to integrate a classifier with a user-friendly interface in DJI Aeroscope. DJI recently launched this innovative RF / Radar sensor that can detect, track, monitor and classify any drone activity within a 50km range when these vehicles are built by DJI. Since DJI drones make up almost 70% of the market, a DJI aeroscope would cover a large part of the possible unauthorized flights within the coverage area and of course this sensor will display a map with real-time drone movements. It is therefore expected that the remaining leading UAV manufacturers (e.g. Parrot, Yuneec, Kespry, etc.) will soon follow this trend and create a uniform standard to keep track of their own drones in similar interfaces, or themselves agree on the compatibility or interoperability of these platforms within a single mobile app or website. A good example of these platforms is AirMap, a trend being downloaded for Apple devices that has started collecting relevant data from various sensors around the world.

All in all, the current trends in drone tracking systems seem to adapt well to the coming developments from the leading manufacturers, but special attention is required to develop easily accessible platforms on which relevant data of drone traffic can be called up on the go. Although the latest hardware trends incorporate the best commercial technologies available and are based on artificial intelligence, it is also important to see the user as a new recipient of this information, rather than a specialized company capable of understanding large content and complex amounts of data. State legislators and regulators are also adjusting the rules to allow this integration into a brave new world, these trends must stay on the path of unification.

In conclusion, there is still a long way to go in terms of fully integrating drones into our daily lives, partly slowed down by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemics that could potentially change trends according to the latest technological releases and given the possibility of reorganizing priorities for the tech giants. This is because there is the option of enabling drone traffic with looser legislative scrutiny to unlock remote logistics that support a new home business model. Drone manufacturers and drone detectors will continue to evolve as technology tends to automate more aspects of our daily lives.

Read more about Aeroscope, the FAA’s ARC drone tracking unit, and the U.S. remote ID decision

Sergio Rodriguez is an engineer and supports the infrastructure practice of Access Partnership. He holds a BSc in Electronics and Communication Engineering from the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN) and an MSc and PhD in Wireless Communication Systems from the University of Sheffield specializing in reconfigurable 5G antennas. He is also a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and has previously worked for Siemens, the University of Sheffield and Drone Defense Services Ltd before joining Access Partnership.

Miriam McNabb is Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.

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