There's a very good reason the airspace around airports is restricted. But the proliferation of consumer drones is making the job of policing these areas increasingly difficult and raising the prospect of these unmanned aircraft crashing into their commercial cousins. As part of its effort to stop drones flying too close to airports, the US government is trialing a defense system at select US airports that scans the area for unmanned drones before using radio beams to stop them in their tracks.
Called the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), the drone disabler to be trialed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is capable of detecting potential threats up to 6 mi (10 km) away through an electronic scanning radar. Once it identifies an incoming drone, it uses infrared and daylight cameras to track its flight path before firing a 4-watt directional beam at the craft to jam its radio signals.
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This entire process takes between eight and 15 seconds, and provides neutralization options that include momentarily freezing the drone so the pilot thinks it has malfunctioned, initiating a forced landing and locking it up until the battery dies so it crashes to the ground. The developers of the AUDS have carried out more than 400 hours of testing and believe the technology is ready to come to the aid of drone-wary airport operators in the US.
"AUDS is able to operate effectively in complex airport environments night and day whatever the weather and without disrupting other airport equipment," says Mark Radford, spokesperson for the AUDS team. "Using AUDS, the operator can effectively take control of a drone and force a safe landing inside or outside the airport perimeter."
The system was developed by a group of British companies including Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems, and is being adapted for use in North America by Liteye Systems. Not only can it disable drones mid-flight, but could also help track down irresponsible pilots by providing authorities with evidence such as video footage or radar tracks.
The FAA says it receives more than 100 reports of drone sightings in the vicinity of airports and airplanes each month. The agency has been openly working towards preventing potential collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft since October last year, when it began testing another detection technology that could locate drones, but not disable them like the AUDS.
Testing of the AUDS will start at airports selected by the FAA, which will work with the companies behind the technology to assess its effectiveness and safety.