Inside the battle to protect our cities from drones

Drones seem like a permanent fixture in our news cycle. For better or worse, in recent years they have gone from a futuristic technology to a reality that has the promise of reshaping everything from the way our shopping is delivered to how military conflict is conducted. In fact, by 2020 it is estimated that there will be 12 million commercial drones operating around the world. To learn more about the future of drone tech, we caught up with Oleg Vornik, CEO and Managing Director of Droneshield.

When Oleg picks up the phone it’s early on the US East Coast, but he’s already up answering emails. It’s a small insight into the life of a CEO at a fast-expanding company that already operates across the world. Droneshield only commenced international sales in 2014, but it has quickly become a world leader in drone detection and protection technology as one of the longest serving players in this new industry.

Founded by two scientists in Virginia, Droneshield was created in response to the rising number of affordable drones. As drone-ownership expanded, it quickly became apparent that they represent a serious threat to our privacy, physical security and public safety. In particular, recent concern has focused on their potentially damaging use at public events, prisons and conflict zones.

Since the company's inception, Droneshield's work has been in developing products used by militaries and governments across the world as well as tens of thousands of prisons, airports and stadiums. Recent notable occasions include the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos and the last two Boston Marathons.

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So what exactly do Droneshield provide? The first part to their product development is the sensor technology which provides real-time alerts and detection of drones. And what makes this technology different? Droneshield’s use of 'acoustic' technology is superior to its competitors that use camera, radar, radio frequency, and thermal based systems. 

"It’s not that acoustics technology is perfect, but our advantage is that we’ve been in the game for a long time. Ensuring reliability in noisy environments is difficult but having sold products for about three years now, we have a lot of experience in dealing with different kinds of places," Oleg explains. 

The second part to Droneshield's product development concerns drone countermeasures. "Probably the most common question after years of selling drone detectors is, 'you've detected the drone, now what?'" Oleg says. To answer this, Droneshield released the DroneGun last November. The DroneGun acts as a jammer for drones up to 2km away, controlling them either by landing them vertically or returning them back to their starting point.

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This advancement all seems positive, but drones are complicated and the regulation around their use reflects that. "You'd think there should be no logical reason why a state prison or local police department should not be able to jam drones" Oleg says. Yet the legality of their use is still under scrutiny. In the US, only a handful of government agencies are able to use drone jammers and the laws in other countries around their use are even more unclear.

That said, even when regulation is loosened, restrictions will still exist. "The moment those rules change, we will see a much wider deployment of jammers by government agencies in the US. But will there become a time when people like you and I will be able to use a jammer? I don't think it's coming soon, simply because it's a reasonably active countermeasure technology to have in our hands," Oleg says.

Another reason drones have seen a lot of press coverage is their potential use by criminal organisations. "It is always important to remember that there are two sorts of people who use drones for unfortunate outcomes," Oleg says. "One is people who don’t mean to use them in a bad way where the user didn't mean any harm. The other is hardened criminals who are using drones for reasons like flying into prisons. In this instance, it doesn’t matter what the law is as they’ll continue doing what they’re doing. Our technology tries to address both types of uses at the same time," he continues. 

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What does the future of drones and drone protection technology look like? For Droneshield they sit squarely in the middle of it all. They simultaneously have military defence companies looking to subcontract their drone protection technology but also have access to the world of start-ups that exists beneath them. "There are lots of start-ups with some very interesting ideas. We are in active discussions with a number of start-ups to effectively bring them into our fold," Oleg says. 

"We believe that the industry is so young that it makes sense to collaborate to give users the best outcome. There’s no question that the best solution in the long-term will be a layered solution where you’re able to detect drones in a number of ways. This also means defeating them in a number of ways. Nobody has the perfect system so the answer is to collaborate to bring this to market," Oleg explains. 

In terms of the future of drone-usage, Oleg's vision is clear. "Drone technology continues to evolve really quickly," he summarises. "We’ll see drone-use regulations relaxing in the sense that you’ll be able to do things like Amazon deliveries by drone. Other companies like that will start using drones more and more. You’ll be seeing drones flying around cities doing deliveries, and eventually out to suburban and rural areas," he continues. 

As drone technology continues to develop and become cheaper, one thing is for sure; we'll see more sophisticated drones in the hands of more people. This trend makes the role of companies like Droneshield increasingly important. Keep up to date with all their latest developments here.

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