This summer, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport installed the DroneWatcher drone detection and defence system manufactured by DeTect, a Panama City, Florida-headquartered, technology-based firm that offers products in the aviation security and safety market. Drone incursions into controlled airspace around airports now represent a major security and flight safety risk in the US and in many other countries, and DeTect president and CEO Gary Andrews tells Airside about those dangers and the company’s solutions
What was the thinking behind the development of DeTect’s DroneWatcher system?
In 2003, DeTect developed for the US Air Force a highly sensitive radar designed to detect small, irregularly moving, variable radar cross section (RCS) targets in ground clutter – birds – which became the MERLIN Avian Radar System. For drone detection, the security version of the MERLIN radar – the HARRIER – is ideal, as small drones are similar to birds in RCS, flight patterns and clutter issues. Additionally, any radar tuned down in sensitively to detect small drone will ‘see’ hundred or thousands of bird targets for every drone present, resulting in a high false alert rate. The MERLIN-HARRIER system also includes special target classification algorithms that allow real-time rejection of non-drone-like targets.
As we began to get more drone inquires several years ago, DeTect recognised that radar, while an important component to a drone detection and defence system, alone did not offer a full security solution. DeTect began developing a radio frequency scanner to detect and decode drone control signals – the DroneWatcher RF. Additionally, our engineers also developed a smartphone app to make an Android device into a short-range personal or crowd-sourced detector.
Today, DeTect’s DroneWatcher (DW) drone/small UAV detection and defence solutions consist of these three main technologies that can operate independently or together to provide complete, multi-layer security solutions that fit each customer’s unique security profile and budget:
• The DroneWatcher app uses advanced signals intelligence technology to turn an Android smartphone or tablet into a drone and small UAV detector that detects, tracks and records information on about 95% of consumer drones with a range of up to 1/3 to 1/2 a mile. This app also records data including the drone type, ID and other information that can be used to document incursions and support apprehension and prosecution by local law enforcement. Multiple devices using DroneWatcher in an area can be networked to provide a wide-area drone surveillance network with a consolidated situational awareness display and text message alerts. The free app is available on Google Play with the Pro paid version released in June 2017
• DroneWatcherRF monitors the radio frequency spectrum to identify known drone and suspect signatures. DroneWatcherRF is able to detect over 98% of commercially available consumer drones on the market (including encrypted drones) out to 1 to 2 miles, providing detailed information including drone type, ID and other data. New signatures are also continually being added to DeTect’s DroneWatcherRF identification database. DroneWatcherRF also includes DeTect’s proprietary cyber drone interdiction and interception functionality
• DroneWatcher DSR (drone surveillance radar) is a primary radar designed specifically for small, low flying, non-co-operative targets in high-clutter environments. DSR is able to detect and track consumer, media and military co-operative and non-cooperative drones within line of sight and at longer ranges out to 2+ miles. The DroneWatcher DSR detects and tracks programmed drones on autopilot that are not detectable by DroneWatcher APP and RF. DSR also includes DeTect’s proprietary drone interdiction and inception functionality
Finally, DroneWatcherWEB is an advanced remote or local data server that consolidates detection from each sensor, provides real-time analysis and identification, logs drone ID data, and generates consolidated web-based user situational awareness displays and interfaces.
Is DroneWatcher a unique offering?
The DroneWatcher system is the market’s only fully layered and scalable technology and is the only solution that includes the crowd-sourcable app. This approach allows a high level of security and flexibility to meet each customer’s operational objectives and budget.
DW includes the only app detector and a radar developed specifically for small, complex targets with real-time classification capabilities. Additionally, DeTect’s RF sensor includes DeTect’s unique drone signature database through the DW WEB that allows the system to identify specific drone model and ID.
What aspects of DroneWatcher has Northwest Florida Beaches Airport now integrated?
The airport has the DW APP, RF and WEB operating (and we are detecting occasional drones), with the DSR scheduled to be installed by the end of August 2017.
Have you sold the system to any other airports, in the US or elsewhere?
We have several other airports scheduled for installs, as well as prisons, businesses, resorts, universities and other similar sites in the US, Canada and overseas.
What plans have you got for the future development of DroneWatcher? Do you have any plans to develop other technologies in this market?
The app is now available on Amazon Apps for Fire devices and we are releasing the DroneWatcher Pro Mini (a low-cost, less than US$250.00, compact, fixed drone detector) for personal use (such as home security) and to create low-cost, wide-area DW app-based detection networks (for campuses and other large complexes). Future development plans include an RF Lite version on the DroneWatcher Pro Mini device that will detect encrypted drones.
You also supply bird strike avoidance radars; at which airports have these been deployed?
DeTect’s MERLIN Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar system was developed for the US Air Force and NASA in 2003 and is the first and only production bird strike radar system and most advanced and widely-used technology available for bird-aircraft strike hazard (BASH) management and for real-time detection, tracking and alerting of hazardous bird activity at commercial airports, military airfields, and military training and bombing ranges. The MERLIN avian radar is proven, operational technology, with over 180 MERLIN systems currently operating at sites worldwide in aviation safety and environmental applications (including over 30 systems at airfields and airports in the US and overseas).
MERLIN is a multi-function system, so a MERLIN bird radar can provide simultaneous detection and alerting of birds and birdstrike risk as well as drone detection. The Northwest Florida Beaches radar will provide both functions to the airport. n