Embry-Riddle professor develops counter-UAS tech that safely grounds unauthorized UAS

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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Drone Defense Systems LLC have announced a licensing agreement to commercialize new technology that detects and commandeers unauthorized UAS, and guides them to a safe landing.  

Developed by Embry-Riddle faculty member Dr. Houbing Song, the technology suggests a “safe, affordable” way to neutralize rogue UAS without having to shoot them down or force them to crash-land. The technology allows for this to be done even in civilian settings such as large outdoor entertainment arenas and airports.

According to Dr. Stephanie A. Miller, executive director of technology transfer for Embry-Riddle’s Research Park, Drone Defense Systems has received exclusive rights to commercialize the technology under the licensing agreement.

Miller adds that Drone Defense Systems’ Founder and CEO Sotirios George Kaminis will work with Song and Embry-Riddle to “further refine the concept, build a prototype, and pursue related products.”

Song’s proposed system utilizes a network of wireless acoustic sensors to identify a flying UAS. A computer-based “brain” called a neural network distinguishes UAS from birds. Built by Song, along with his Ph.D. students Yongxin Liu and Jian Wang, the network is always learning and getting smarter.

After the system confirms a UAS, the acoustic sensors and beacon receivers work together to transmit information to a control center.

If the UAS is on an unauthorized flight, Song’s system uses sophisticated pattern-recognition techniques to decipher the drone’s video-streaming channel and interrupt the broadcast with a warning message.

“For each drone, the acoustic pattern might be a little different, but we can tell them apart, just as anyone can distinguish between a songbird and the noise of a crow,” Liu says.

Song says that the system can also hijack the drone’s communication channel to trigger its pre-determined return flight, or otherwise trick the UAS into leaving the area.

“It disrupts communication between the pilot and the drone,” Kaminis explains. “It detects the drone, finds out what language the drone speaks, activates an emulation system that mimics the drone’s language, and snatches control away from the pilot.”

Song notes that the FAA currently receives more than 100 reports of UAS sightings from pilots, citizens and law enforcement each month.

Present day strategies of combating rogue drones consist of everything from dispatching birds of prey to shooting bullets, nets or channel-jamming electromagnetic noise at unauthorized UAS. Military and corporate drone-jamming technologies also exist, but they aren't cheap. 

Kaminis says that Song’s system could be manufactured at a lower cost than other drone-jamming technologies that currently exist. Song’s system would also be able to work over long distances and in a variety of settings.

“Our solution is friendly,” Song says. “Rather than destroying the drone, we guide it to a safe landing place.”

Kaminis says that this approach is advantageous, noting that his company already markets another counter-drone technology, but that technology is intrusive, he says.

“My existing product is intrusive – it’s considered a weapon because it jams drones and makes them fall out of the sky,” Kaminis says.

“The Embry-Riddle technology is non-intrusive, so it is ideal for civilian applications and easy to export as it doesn’t fall under ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations).”

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