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Hinman Pulse

August 23, 2016

New FAA Drone Regulations & Restrictions

by Fred Jorgensen

Photo credit: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/drone360/files/2015/06/drone-crosshairs.jpg

New rules set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), taking effect in August, open the sky to the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and legislate the current guidelines for personal use. The additional rules for commercial use are: a pilot registration system and protocol to waive certain FAA restrictions. The waiver system is the most significant new rule. With the proper waivers, companies can now legally provide customers with a wide variety of UAS based services. Essentially, the FAA has sanctioned the start of an $82-billion-dollar industry. A budding micro-economy with such a highly anticipated market potential means that drones are here to stay, and rapid technological advances for UASs are to be expected in the coming months and years. Malicious actors are bound to take advantage of these technologies for any number of nefarious purposes, ranging from illegal surveillance to using a UAS to plant and detonate explosives. In order to smoothly integrate such a booming market, effective design and prevention must be a serious consideration in securing facilities.

Anti-UAS technologies used to secure facilities will have two layers of defense, a passive and a reactive layer. First layer, passive, technologies prohibit hobbyists from accidentally or intentionally breaking airspace restriction.  An example of this technology is Geo-Fencing. Geo-Fencing compares the UAS’s current GPS coordinates to preset restricted airspace GPS coordinates. If these coordinates match, the flight controls are overridden and inhibit the pilot from taking-off or flying into in restricted airspaces.  DJI, a drone manufacture that has led the way in Geo-Fencing technology integration, and AirMap, an app that provides current FAA airspace restrictions, are working towards a future in which all premanufactured drones have built in up to date Geo-Fencing software. However, the first layer technologies will do little to prevent a dedicated, malicious actor who wants to circumvent the Geo-Fence and commit unwanted surveillance or harm to others. By custom building their own drones or overriding the internal Geo-Fencing restrictions, these individuals still pose a considerable risk to the public, state, and private organizations. To defend against these actors, the second level of defense must be a reactive technology aimed at identify and bringing down malicious drones.

Drones are too small to be picked up on RADAR, so emerging technologies are necessary to be able to identify drones before they breach the restricted area. For example, DroneShield collects real time acoustic data of a restricted area and compares the data to the acoustic signature of prerecorded drones. If there is a signature match, DroneShield sends out an alert that a breach of the restricted airspace has occurred. Currently, this technology can identify a drone in the area, but it is limited to providing an approximate location of the drone based on what recording device picked up the sound. After a breach has been determined, security cameras and security personnel are relied on to locate and neutralize the unwanted UAS.  Current implementation of this technology would require facilities to create a protocol for an airspace breach to bring down the unwanted UAS. Technologies to automate the bringing down of unwanted drones are also in development. The ability to both identify and mitigate UAS is an important next step in the growth of this market as the possibility of security breaches cause potentially dangerous and expensive liability.

Current tools to bring down a UAS include: projectile based devices and non-projectile based electronic scrambling devices. Because most secure sites have onsite guards carrying a firearm, guns are likely to be the only readily available tool to bring down the unwanted UAS. However, this could pose threat to civilians, both due to the danger of friendly fire and the inability to neutralize any explosive device a drone could be carrying. The most promising new technology for safely neutralizing unsanctioned UAS is in electronic scrambling devices like the Drone Defender. These devices not only bring down the drone, but can also scramble any remote detonation triggers that might be onboard. These types of devices don’t threaten the lives of civilians, however; the electronic scrambling could have a negative effect on all electronics in the area. For example, the electronic scrambler could neutralize emergency communication systems. Even with the shortcomings of current UAS identification and mitigation technology, their implementation should become a fixture of physical security at all facilities and events where drone based attacks are determined to be a serious threat.  These protocols will help identify the gaps in security, pushing the industry to itself to be better, and safer. In effect, rudimentary identification and mitigation systems, such as the combination of DroneShield and armed guards shooting at UAS, are the necessary first steps towards better, more sophisticated technology that will eventually automate secure drone defense. 

As UAS technology grows in prevalence, so must the technology to prevent its subversion. UAS are bound to be used for nefarious purposes ranging from illegally spying on neighbors to using a UAS to detonate a bomb. Fortunately, emerging technologies are already on the market to try and mitigate these threats. However, even with proper implementation of all new technologies there is always the potential for a breakdown in security which could allow a UAS based threat to break through a perimeter. At Hinman Consulting Engineers we hope use our expertise to aid in designing structures that serve as a last line of defense for any new potential threats.  All efforts towards adoption and implementation of UAS mitigating technologies will keep restrictions and oversite of UAS low, allowing for the rapid advancement of technologies and productive uses for UAS technologies. This will eventually lead to the pinnacle of human progress: having tacos delivered to a GPS coordinates via UAS.

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