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Drone Detectors Liteye’s Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) can be mounted on several types of platforms, including a trailer.

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To Address a Growing Threat, the FAA is Evaluating Systems That Detect and Track UAS at Airports

Photos: Liteye Systems, Gryphon Sensors.

By Marc Selinger

The Federal Aviation Administration is assessing an assortment of high-tech tools designed to detect unmanned aircraft systems that accidentally or intentionally fly too close to airports. Through a Pathfinder program, the FAA intends to test a total of at least five different drone-detecting systems at airports. At press time, the agency had already tried out detectors provided by CACI International and the FBI and was ironing out plans to evaluate systems developed by Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems and Sensofusion by year’s end. “We selected manufacturers with a variety of UAS detection technologies, including radar, radio frequency and optical,” an FAA spokesman told Unmanned Systems magazine. “Research suggests more than one type of sensing technology may be needed in an airport environment, and each airport has unique user needs and engineering challenges.” The FAA is trying to address growing concerns about rogue UAS flying near airports, an issue underscored by recent close calls at Los Angeles International Airport and elsewhere. While the agency receives more than 100 reports a month from pilots and others who spot drones flying near airports or manned planes, catching the operators has proven difficult. “Continuously, you see the stories out there where they send all the police officers that are available out to search for an operator, and they never find him,” says Kenneth Geyer, co-founder and vice president of business development for Liteye. “We hope to end that.”

Industry officials believe a multibillion-dollar market could materialize someday for drone detectors at airports and many other vulnerable sites. “Thousands of potential places” across the United States could have a need for drone detectors, according to Mike Kushin, executive vice president for CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions business group. “We have received interest from several organizations, including major defense contractors, oil and gas companies, theme parks, Fortune 500 companies, stadiums, movie sets and many other entities,” says Tony Albanese, Gryphon’s president. “Essentially, any organization that is interested in protecting large public gatherings, intellectual property, public infrastructure or VIPs could be a potential customer.” But for now, “the market is still in the early adoption phase,” because most potential customers are still learning about the threats and potential solutions, explains Tuomas Rasila, Sensofusion’s CEO. And while many detectors can “defeat” or “mitigate” drones by various means, such as jamming their radio communications, taking control of the aircraft or denying their ability to find GPS, the FAA has no plans to test such capabilities, many of which are not allowed by law. uuu

Airfence, developed by Finland-based Sensofusion, is a box-sized, backpackportable system already deployed in Europe at international airports, military bases, government buildings,

Tony Albanese, president of Gryphon Sensors, displays his company’s Skylight drone-detection system.

police stations and prisons. Rasila says a single Airfence unit can detect drones from up to six miles away and that several systems can cover a large airport. The systems are typically mounted on a high point, such as atop a building or tower. Airfence detects drones and their operators by “passively listening” for radio communications between them. If the radio signals are encrypted, the system can still pinpoint where they are by using triangulation, which involves picking up radio signals from several locations to determine a position. When Airfence detects a drone, it sends an alert in real time to both stationary command centers and mobile devices. While Rasila expects Airfence to be paired with another company’s AUGUST 2016 | UNMANNED SYSTEMS

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Sensofusion’s Airfence system sends drone-detection alerts to smartphones.

radar during the FAA evaluation, he believes his company’s system alone would be enough to address most of the drones that airports could encounter in the foreseeable future. “Based on the fact that all drone incidents have involved drones using radio communication, we developed a system that addresses 99.9 percent of the problem,” he says. “In parallel, we are going after the other 0.1 percent through other means not yet advertised.” In what the FAA called the “first UAS detection research in a commercial airport environment,” CACI tested its SkyTracker at the FAA Technical Center at Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey over five days in late January and early February. Mounted on tripods and buildings, SkyTracker used UAS radio links to detect and track UAS in flight and on the ground. The system showed it could perform its mission without disrupting existing systems or airport operations, according to Kushin. 36 |

UNMANNED SYSTEMS | AUGUST 2016

“We had all the confidence in the world that the system would work as advertised, and it did,” he says. CACI, based in Arlington, Virginia, is slated to conduct another test for the FAA in late summer. SkyTracker, which Kushin describes as a “series of antennas,” uses techniques such as triangulation to detect drones whose communications are encrypted. And if a drone is navigating with GPS instead of radio signals, SkyTracker can detect it when it communicates with its operator to verify its flight path commands. The system can also find an operator. SkyTracker is fielded with a centralized “rack of computers” to process radio signals. CACI has designed its system to work quickly. If a drone is “flying toward approach at 30 to 50 miles an hour, you don’t have minutes to make decisions; you really have seconds,” Kushin says. “We’ve optimized the system to be able to detect one or more targets in very short order and provide that information in a very timely fashion.”

The Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), developed by Liteye Systems, a Colorado-based company formed by three British firms, uses radar to detect and track UAS and their operators. A video camera slews so the drone can be seen in two different spectrums. “We have redundancy in the system, so that if we lose radar track for some reason, we still have them on video tracking,” Geyer says. “If we lose the video footage, we still have them on radar.” The system can be mounted on a trailer, tripod or roof and is deployed with undisclosed military customers. AUDS or parts of it are also being used to protect borders, ports, and oil depots and to provide perimeter security and wildlife detection at London’s Heathrow Airport and at Prague’s international airport. For testing at a large airport, Liteye used three 180-degree radars to cover the whole base. “We’ve had other ones where we covered everything in one 360-de-


gree setup,” Geyer says. “It just really depends on the facility and how it’s laid out.”

Photo: Sensofusion.

Liteye recently integrated the Aeryon SkyRanger small UAS with AUDS to provide “another perspective” and “another evidence-collecting vehicle,” he says. “We’re trying to do everything we can” to give the FAA and airports “a lot of evidence to use in court to go prosecute these guys,” adds Geyer, who hopes to use SkyRanger with the FAA project. Skylight, offered by Gryphon Sensors of Syracuse, New York, combines a radar to detect targets, radio-frequency monitoring to confirm target types and slew-to-cue video to track targets.

probability of detection and proper classification of the target,” he says.

“Our parent company, SRC Inc., has decades of experience developing complex radar systems for the military, capable of detecting and tracking airborne targets with small radar cross sections,” Albanese says. Gryphon is “leveraging this experience to design and develop a radar specifically for the detection and tracking of small UAS. We use a combination of advanced waveforms and signal- and dataprocessing techniques to extract small targets from the background clutter.”

Skylight can use a variety of different radars made by SRC and others. “We work with customers to understand their requirements and budgets and to lay out an appropriate system,” Albanese says. The system can be mounted on several platform types, including a tripod, fixed panel or van.

According to Albanese, radar is needed, because UAS are increasingly flying with GPS instead of radio to increase their autonomy. “A comprehensive solution requires all three technologies to maximize the

In May, the FAA evaluated an FBI drone detector at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The evaluation involved five different rotorcraft and fixed-wing UAS. The FAA referred questions about the system to the FBI, which declined to provide details.  AUGUST 2016 | UNMANNED SYSTEMS

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Drone Detectors  

The FAA's plan to identify drones flying near airports

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