As hobby drones have wildly increased in popularity, so too has the need to keep pilots accountable. Following the launch of a mandatory drone registry last year, the US government is now exploring new technologies to detect drones flying too close to airports. Early testing has been labelled a success, and holds the promise of not just sniffing out rogue drones but the irresponsible people behind the joysticks as well.
While it continues to work on new laws to safely integrate drones into national airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ramped up its public awareness campaigns. This has included educational materials offered at the point of sale, digital campaigns and a smartphone app. Now it is enlisting new technologies to further mitigate the risk to public safety.
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The number of instances of drones flying dangerously close to airliners has risen sharply over the last year, with the FAA saying it receives over 100 reports of such events each month. The new initiative, which was announced in October, sees the agency partner with private company CACI in an effort to avoid potential catastrophic collisions with manned aircraft.
CACI's drone-detecting tech counts on radio frequency sensors placed strategically around an airport. These sensors detect the same frequencies used by drones, triangulates the signals and then zeroes in on the location of not just the vehicle, but the pilot too. The system was tested out for the first time at Atlantic City International Airport last month, where 141 operations were carried out over five days.
"The results of testing under our PathFinder agreement with the FAA at Atlantic City International Airport demonstrate that CACI's proprietary system – SkyTracker – performed as designed," says CACI Chief Operating Officer John Mengucci. "SkyTracker successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators – all without interfering with airport ground operations."
We have seen a number of inventive approaches to tackling rogue drone flights in recent months, ranging from drone-catching nets to radio beams and firmware updates from manufacturers that block flights in sensitive airspace. The FAA and CACI will continue testing their detection technology over the coming months and will deliver a final report by August 2016.