Can We Detect Small Drones Like the One That Crashed at White House? Yes, We Can

IEE Spectrum

By David Schneider

Last week, a small drone belonging to a federal worker crashed on the White House grounds. Just what caused the little flyer to head off to one of the most security-sensitive sites in the world is not certain, but in any event the results were pretty harmless. Still, the incident sparked much interest in the White House’s aerial defenses should someone want to use a small drone of this kind to do real mischief.

The New York Times reported that the ill-fated drone, a DJI Phantom, was “too small and flying too low to be detected by radar,” according to government officials. So how might the U.S. Secret Service—or others worried about drone incursions to the properties they oversee—detect them? I contacted T. Adam Kelly, the CTO of DeTect, a specialty radar company based in Panama City, Fla., to discuss this issue.

Kelly told me immediately that the notion that a DJI Phantom is too small to detect with radar is, well, not exactly correct. Sure, you can’t detect one with ordinary radar, but Kelly’s company, among others, has been making systems capable of doing just that. The tricky part, he says, is not so much in sensing the subtle radar returns but in distinguishing a small drone from the many birds that your radar will also pick up.

“You’d just be floored by how many birds there are around,” says Kelly. “And you’re looking for this one incident in this mass of activity.”

Despite the difficulty, Kelly says it’s indeed possible to distinguish small drones from birds, by measuring the motion of the targets and other subtle aspects of each radar return and then applying machine intelligence to the problem. That is, you can automate the process of picking out any targets that don’t match what you’d expect for a bird or other source of radar clutter. Kelly’s company has done this, for example, for a client in Spain who needed to monitor what was in the air at a UAV-testing site.

Full article here Detection of small Drones

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Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on February 4, 2015 at 7:21pm

So a multicopter with wobbly navigation PID tuning that exhibits a bird-like flight path is the new stealth...?

Comment by technicus acityone on February 4, 2015 at 10:00pm

http://www.dedrone.com/en/press-releases
looks like the exploitation of fears,
In fact RC drones NOT modern tech, cos history of RC modelling more than 50 years.
Tecnology of small drones became very chip now, but if u talk about terrorism or more over spying price is not appear asthe determining factor.
Detecting small drones Like Phantom is allow only using microwave level sensoring + smart analizing.
Or just microwave radar =)

Comment by Gary McCray on February 4, 2015 at 10:05pm

So the next irritating innovation will be imitating bird flight patterns.

I would think a whole lot easier to do than the algorithms to distinguish them in the first place.

(and you can easily build a quadcopter using radar (emf to heat) conversion paint (graphite) that has a virtually zero radar footprint.

In fact some of the almost all carbon fiber ones would probably just need a bit of graphite paint on their motors and batteries to disappear completely from radar.

Honestly this isn't rocket science even though the military likes to portray it as magic.

There are actually a bunch of technologies that could do this better and easier than radar.

Sound would be the easiest, at least at this time these things have very distinctive and not easily alterable or silence-able sound signatures and detector trackers could be built on the same principal as the current military firearm detector/locators.

3D optical and laser scanners would also be pretty easy to put into operation for a high value "place" like the White house. - Kind of surprised they don't have it already, a bit slow I guess.

Best,

Gary

Comment by CliffN on February 5, 2015 at 12:33am

Looks like they are trying

http://www.mail.com/int/scitech/news/3339296-to-catch-drone-govts-s...

besides civilian drones are meant to be visible. unless your hiding something. the military guys are always trying to counter it with their stealth technology.so if this Dedrone device can detect a military drone fly by it would be a embarrassment to their contractor.  LOL the case of the sword and the shield http://studymorechinese.com/profiles/blogs/story-behind-mao-dun-swo...

BTW have did a control test last year  with a Lidar gun with an off-duty officer  with one of my flying wings. it seems to get pass it without detection . while a 450 size heli got readouts of its speed. 

anyway. im interested in falconry . as a 2nd alternative to drones.

BTW 

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on February 5, 2015 at 6:10am

Detection is only half the battle and really the least of the problems.  The real challenge, the other half, is what you do after it is detected.  This is what the USSS and other agencies charged with protection are struggling with even more.

So you detect it.  Now what?  Lighting it up with a CIWS or SAM is not exactly practical in a populated environment.  It will be less than a mile away, more likely 1/4 mile at most, so intercepting it with a fighter or helo is not an option.  A sniper on a rooftop might be able to hit it, if he can find it.  Not a practical option to rely on.  So in short, shooting it down is very impractical.

Wiping out the radio control link is somewhat practical.  You would need transmitters on all the control bands at a very high power to wash out the actual controller.  But what good is that really doing?  If it has a failsafe, it will at best turn around and go home.  At worse it will just drop out of the sky onto whatever is below. If it is on a GPS guided course, it will have no effect at all.

And the biggest problem, simply dropping it out of the sky by way of shooting it down or jamming the control is the last thing they want to do.  If it has an explosive or chemical weapon payload, arbitrarily dropping out of the sky onto whatever happens to be below is not solving the problem.  It could very easily make it much worse.

What these agencies really want is a way to take over control and reroute it to a safe location of their choosing.  With all the different bands, frequency hopping, spread spectrum, unique ID codes, etc, this is a gargantuan problem.  The time from detection to, for example hitting the white house is seconds.  Brute force takeover by finding the right frequency, the right sequence, the right unique ID, etc is nearly impossible in that amount of time.

It's a much bigger challenge than it looks.

Comment by F1P on February 5, 2015 at 8:37am


How defense WH against drones?
More discipline, less vodka ;)

Comment by Foxzilla on February 5, 2015 at 10:48am

Laser weapons. Heat the batteries and be done with it.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on February 5, 2015 at 1:32pm

If you can detect, lock on, and hit it with a laser, maintain that target lock, and heat it up to that point all in a few seconds, sure.  But then you have the same problem of it dropping on whatever happens to be below it, on fire.

Comment by CliffN on February 6, 2015 at 3:51am

correct Lipos do explodes on impact. as most People who use them knows.

Comment by Gary McCray on February 6, 2015 at 5:27pm

Hi Pedals, I agree, detecting it is one thing doing something about it in a timely manner is another whole can of worms.

Since these things move fast, I suspect an automated response would be the only effective measure.

And good luck with that, maybe an EMP burst (very problematic), radio jamming (might work if its not flying autonomous, military grade combustion laser (could be a little hard on whatever is in the back ground) and ditto for an automated chain gun and I think surface to air missiles are out for obvious reasons "White House anti drone system takes out out of control quadcopter unfortunately killing 12 and destroying the building across the street in the process".

The bottom line is that their really isn't a viable response at this time, even if you did detect it and have agents "shooting at it" those flying bullets would be a hell of a liability,

I guess you could have special anti-drone agents equipped with shotguns (non-lead pellets only) of course.

New sport white house drone skeet.

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