back to article Radio wave gun zaps drones out of the sky – and it's perfectly legal*

US biz Battelle boasts it has found a way to rid our skies of annoying drones without breaking the flying machines' hardware. And here's the solution: DroneDefender, a shoulder-mounted weapon that sends pulses of radio waves to disrupt communications between the drone and its operator. The electro-magnetic cannon, which has a …

  1. Chairo

    Arms race coming?

    I predict there is soon a market for laser controlled drones.

    1. kurios

      Re: Arms race coming?

      Just so. If not laser controlled, then inertially guided, terrain-matching, laser target-designated, or simply drone RF communications shifted to different (hopped) frequencies.

      Yet one more facet of the human arms race. Computation is so very cheap these days.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Arms race coming?

      laser controlled drones.

      You want to keep them away from sharks, then.

    3. Known Hero
      Trollface

      Re: Arms race coming?

      Why not have drones patrolling airfields to stop drones entering the airspace !!!

      We could arm them with heavy explosives, they then take chase and explode on impact !!

      Nothing could go wrong :D

      1. handle

        Re: Arms race coming?

        Laser control won't help with GPS.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Megaphone

          Re: Arms race coming?

          With laser you need line-of-sight. And it's not that cranking up the power will get that pesky bit of foliage out of the way, unless your controller is capable of Star Wars levels of oomph.

    4. JCitizen
      Terminator

      Re: Arms race coming?

      You can bet the Secret Service is gonna want one for White House duty - they've been embarrassed every since they didn't know what to do when the last accidental drone incursion occurred - now they at least have an excuse that they can fight the problem head on.

  2. RedneckMother

    eff that

    "We were very adamant about not doing damage"

    Just FRY the MF's, and get it over with.

    Operator: "I seem to have lost my drone."

    Me: "Step one foot on my property, and you'll lose a lot more than that. Go play with yourself somewhere else."

    1. Blank Reg

      Re: eff that

      It's not that simple. I've looked into this already as I was considering building a device just like this RF cannon, but as they beat me to it it will be a lot harder to to get funding.

      Anyhow, blowing the drone out of the sky sounds great, the problem is you may injure someone on the ground. But if you can disrupt communications to the drone it will go into a safe mode and slowly descend down to ground level, where you can then proceed to beat the crap out of it with a crow bar :)

      1. Gordon861

        Re: eff that

        That assumes that the drone has a safe mode, on most basic drones if you break communication with them then they just plummet.

        So much for no damage.

    2. Hollerith 1

      Re: eff that

      Except if it plummets to earth over, say, a playground or beer garden or what have you.

      1. Bill B

        Re: eff that

        "Except if it plummets to earth over, say, a playground or beer garden or what have you.". Pretty sure that's illegal in UK, so you just keep hold of the unit until plods arrive.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Return to sender.

    Should make it easier to catch the perp.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Return to sender.

      It's a real shame that these things, that hobbyists can use safely to hoist a camera up to capture interesting footage that would otherwise be difficult and expensive to get, are vilified by squealy public because they don't understand them and a few irresponsible twats have used them to feed the tabloids,

      So yeah, lets ban all the quadcopters. Even though people have been flying radio controlled aircraft for over 60 years, many of them heavier than a quadcopter, can carry heavier loads and fly at much higher speeds. Some of them are even gas turbine powered.

      I am considering going on the Little Britain war path against cricket, because I don't really understand it and I am not personally interested in it and I heard that two people have been killed lately whilst playing it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Return to sender.

        > It's a real shame that these things, <snip>, are vilified by squealy public because they don't understand them and a few irresponsible twats have used them to feed the tabloids.

        In general I think you'll find it's the irresponsible twats who are vilified. As far as I can tell few people are saying ban them, just saying regulate them, and find some way to fry those who are irresponsible.

        > Even though people have been flying radio controlled aircraft for over 60 years, many of them heavier than a quadcopter, can carry heavier loads and fly at much higher speeds.

        Historically flow by responsible people who know the regulations, rather than over the heads of crowds or into the flight path of commercial aircraft. The issue isn't the drones, it's the people and the manner in which they are being flown.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Return to sender.

          I see a lot of suspicion and witch-fearing about Quads, even when they are sitting quietly on the ground.

          Thanks to tabloid-tutoring, there's a perception that the only use for these things is to fly into a passenger jet intake, deliver a radio-active bio-plague-bomb into a packed stadium or peer through windows at people indulging in itimate activities.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Return to sender.

            For what other uses are these devices actually used by people? It seems to me invasion of privacy and outright idiocy dominate the use cases in the real world.

  4. ammabamma
    Pint

    Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

    Airsoft FN-SCAR metal frame - ~$200USD with Amazon Prime

    2.4 GHz yagi antenna - ~$15USD with Amazon Prime

    Holographic picatinny rail sight - ~$30USD with Amazon Prime

    Assorted electronics - $???USD

    Weekend of father/son kit-bashing and tinkering - Priceless

    Icon, 'cause building a RotM drone death-ray is thirsty work --->

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

      The assorted electronics look like an old 2.4GHz access point (the white blob). You can get a better one from TpLink in these days - one that fits neatly in the overall weapon.

      Example: http://imgur.com/a/c4WNF#PEc4q1x

      Hmm... I have most of the bits for this (missing only the optical sight) in my loft including an antenna which is higher gain and more directional than what they have used. I may actually build this at some point.

      I do not see how this will manage to jam a cellular connection though. That antenna looks 2.4GHz band. It will be of no use in the GSM/3G bands. Jamming the drones which use WiFi though should not be a problem.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. ammabamma
        Facepalm

        Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

        > You can get a better one from TpLink in these days - one that fits neatly in the overall weapon.

        That certainly looks like an interesting piece of kit to tinker with. I must check my current "shiny toys" budget.

        Not too sure about the dress in the link though. If I got that, people'd run screaming for the eye-bleach...

    2. Bob 5

      Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

      Just take a microwave oven, take the door off and frig the door interlock, point it at the sky, fit a drone drone detector and bob's your aunt's husband - an automatic drone free environment.....(and you'll get the odd free fried pigeon into the bargain).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

        No, you wont..

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

      The ($10) 2.4 GHz yagi antenna has about +18dBi gain, and therefore a beamwidth of about 26°.

      Therefore, the holographic picatinny rail sight isn't *actually* required.

      It ain't a laser beam.

      1. ammabamma
        Happy

        Re: Hmmm... I smell an Instructables...

        > the holographic picatinny rail sight isn't *actually* required.

        Oh no doubt! Although no self respecting death-ray should be without some sort of sight though. "Rule of Cool" and all that...

  5. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    What happens when the drone is out of range of the device?

    What will happen when the drone starts its return to its starting point but then regains communication to the operator? Given the small cone the gun would have, you'd have to hit it constantly until its back on the ground. Also, what about drones that are on a predetermined route? They wouldn't care about losing signal...

    1. Adam JC

      Re: What happens when the drone is out of range of the device?

      Pretty sure that by losing GPS, it can't tell where it is - even on its 'predetermined route' it still needs GPS for guidance. If it loses that, as the article says, it will enter a failsafe mode and either return to the operator or slowly/safely descend after a period of time if it can't regain a GPS signal.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What happens when the drone is out of range of the device?

        If it can't tell where it is, how is it going to return to its operator?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: if it can't regain a GPS signa

        "it still needs GPS for guidance. If it loses that, as the article says, it will enter a failsafe mode and either return to the operator or slowly/safely descend after a period of time if it can't regain a GPS signal."

        When there is no GPS (which, as others have noted, is eminently jammable):

        How does it know which way to go to return to the operator?

        How does it know which way is down, and how slowly it is descending?

        Enlightenment welcome.

        1. HereIAmJH

          Re: if it can't regain a GPS signa

          The article said it was jamming ISM bands (WiFi). GPS is not in an ISM band and would likely not be affected. They also said they were working hard to stay legal (only offering to law enforcement). No one is going to allow them to sell a GPS jammer, unless it was direct to military.

      3. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: What happens when the drone is out of range of the device?

        Drones will have accelerometers and compasses and could continue on their path using Dead Reckoning in lieu of a GPS fix. It'll then correct itself once it gets GPS back.

        To return to the operator, some drones will just repeat all the commands they were issued since takeoff, but reverse them. It may not get them back to exactly where they started, but at least pretty close.

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Rats...Feds only....

    I guess I'll have to just build an anti-craft gun... anyone know where I can find a gently used Borfors 40?

    It'll take care of drones and those kids with the Boom-Boom blasting in their cars at night.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rats...Feds only....

      Why Bofors?

      You are probably not familiar with the most exported, most used and most manufactured Russian weapon. The one which even NATO and Israelis use. It is called ZPU: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZPU

      You can get one in Ukraine or the Middle East. Easily.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Rats...Feds only....

        Personal favorite. Russian equipment might be hard to get into the country.

  7. Alister Silver badge

    The DroneDefender emits a harmless cone of radio waves that interfere with GPS and signals on the industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) radio bands,

    Someone should tell the FCC that the ISM bands are apparently OK to disrupt - but you mustn't do it with a WiFi router's firmware...

    1. gollux

      It's Battelle, they probably hold a pending license from the FCC for its use as a drone interceptor used by civil and law agencies to remove drones from aircraft operations areas such as wildfire zones, etc. They're a defense and governmental research contractor.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        @gollux

        Yes, I understand that, but whether they are licensed or not isn't the point, there's still a contradiction.

        The FCC are trying to stop the installation of custom firmware on WiFi routers, their stated reason being the possible interference if the firmware is used to make the router transmit out-of-band.

        However no amount of firmware mods can make a WiFi router transmit at the sort of power levels that could cause any widespread disruption - at most you'll get a few milliwatts out the end of it, whereas this "gun" must be transmitting at Kilowatt or even Megawatt levels to achieve the stated result, and yet it's described as "harmless".

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Boffin

          Power levels

          whereas this "gun" must be transmitting at Kilowatt or even Megawatt levels

          I would suggest you read up on RF signalling, antenna design and a few related matters, and then revisit this statement.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          However no amount of firmware mods can make a WiFi router transmit at the sort of power levels that could cause any widespread disruption - at most you'll get a few milliwatts out the end of it,

          Firmware mods + RF Amplifier and high gain antenna.

          1. Alister Silver badge

            Firmware mods + RF Amplifier and high gain antenna.

            Yes but that's why the proposed legislation is so stupid, the firmware itself doesn't make much difference, you can strap a hi-gain antenna or an amp to any existing router with stock firmware.

        3. Col_Panek

          Megawatts? That would be enough to fry the drone's receiver. It doesn't have to be a very long pulse, though. You can build a device that you can carry that would put out that much power for a few nanoseconds.

          The jammer just puts out more power than the perp's radio. Not hard considering he's hiding way off somewhere.

    2. Bob H

      The FCC already takes a dim view of jammers, even when used by law enforcement. I am not sure why journo's are reporting that this device is legal, because it likely isn't, perhaps they believe the manufacturer instead of doing two minutes of proper research.

      "Operation is Restricted to Authorized Federal Agencies. Federal law provides no exemption for use of a signal jammer by school systems, police departments, or other state and local authorities. Only federal agencies are eligible to apply for and receive authorization."

      1. PNGuinn
        Go

        @ Bob H re "dim view of jammers"

        So - all you'll need in practice is an "agency" or name that acroniminises (TM) to 3 letters.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strap a phone to it...

    The GPS receiver only needs a view of the sky. Shield it (hemispherical Faraday cage?) from the ground, and build sufficient autonomy into the drone such that communication with the ground is only used to supply (encrypted+signed) new mission parameters, with some basic logic to determine what to do if contact is lost for too long. Continue with current mission until fuel/power drops to the point that returning home is required sounds sensible.

    How much does a 3G/4G phone weigh these days? Write a little Android app that can output control signals to the drone, while pulling GPS coords and listening for new commands over data/wifi.

    1. gollux

      Re: Strap a phone to it...

      GPS signals are so crappily weak that it takes very little to completely neutralize them. You are using pseudorandom noise to bring the signal above the noise floor so it can be detected. All that's needed is a more powerful local pseudorandom noise generator. We shut down ability to use GPS within a 2 mile radius when our GPS signal regenerator failed, funny how the feds start knocking on doors when that happens. Experience gained from working in an avionics shop. What we navigate on is very tenuous and not authenticated.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Strap a phone to it...

        If that's the case, then how are the air and cruse lines and shipping companies going to safeguard themselves from this type of attack?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: safeguard ... from this type of attack?

          "how are the air and cruse lines and shipping companies going to safeguard themselves from this type of attack?"

          These things could navigate OK before GPS. In the general case, stuff like LORAN, Decca navigator, inertial navigation, etc. In specific use cases (e.g. aircraft landing) there are lots of tried and tested alternatives.

          If these applications start relying solely on GPS, they are heading for trouble (as you rightly surmise). This is known and understood and maybe even already catered for.

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Strap a phone to it...

        Could the accelerometer from a mobile phone be used to make a 'good-enough' inertial guidance system? It doesn't have to be very accurate , just enough to continue the flight path beyond jamming range.

      3. moonrakin

        Re: Strap a phone to it...

        indeed ....

        I have seen several instances where corroded / rotted out active GPS antennas have blotted out several square miles of coverage as they oscillated away erratically.

  9. Captain DaFt

    I always was fond of overkill

    I think this is waaay more fun than some radio gizmo.

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: I always was fond of overkill

      Just what Mr Wolf wants for Christmas

  10. RichardB

    For today... just today.

    "For today we're very particular about staying on the right side of the law," said senior researcher Dan Stamm.

    That inspires... confidence

    1. Adam JC

      Re: For today... just today.

      'For today'.... what a baller!

  11. Drew 11

    "proprietary electronics"

    Why?

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      "Why?"

      That's easy - so as to immediately avert any ideas you might get about "Hey, I could build one of these too". It's carefully crafted PR-slang to make you think "oh, unreachable for me..."

  12. stewwy

    Typical defense company boondoggle, 10 lines of code in my Flight controller and this is useless ( read rssi, zigzag out of interference,, resume mission )

    Speaking as someone who has nearly finished their 2nd 250 racing drone ( the first one blew up,did you know Lithium polymer batteries store a LOT of energy and Carbon fibre is conductive? I'd forgotten).

    A bit of background, the radios are frequency hopping and the most popular ones run open source software, the flight controllers are as well and we're up to 32bit processors with a full sensor suite

    Most of the software in both the radios and the flight controller is Open Source ( and has the required bad tempered bitch fight between competing forks :-) ) so I'd have to say bring it on.

    I'd back our beardies and 12 yr old coders against any defense contractors.

    written light hardheartedly, cos you know, TLA's ( and FLA in the UK) Drones being Villain of the Month at the moment,

    1. Bob H

      Optimism

      To be fair they can just blat out the entire band you might operate in and saturate the receiver so that it couldn't actually decode anything. Automating evasive action would struggle to take into account the fact that the jammer can move to track them. The drone could try to return to base but it would lack GPS so it would have to do that via the IMU.

      But don't worry, these devices are illegal for anyone but federal agencies to use and they'd need to apply for a licence to use them from the FCC. If you're flying a drone and the federal government don't like it then you probably are going to have their finger in uncomfortable places very soon anyway.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Optimism

        Bob H "The drone could try to return to base but it would lack GPS..."

        Nonsense.

        The antenna is clearly wifi band, 2.4 GHz. I own several, so I recognize the $10 eBay item. The article states that it blocks the command and control link, in the wifi band.

        GPS is not in the same band, but is about 1.6 GHz. Would require a different antenna (Log Periodic) to cover both bands. Plus, duh, they're not going to suggest jamming GPS next to an airport.

        .: The wayward and/or illegal drone will retain GPS.

        Obviously.

        1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

          " jamming GPS next to an airport."

          Jamming GPS ear an airport wouldn't have any effect on aircraft operations. There are locator beacons that extend in straight lines from either end of the runway that allow the aircraft to align itself with the centerline of the strip rather than trying to map GPS coordinates to where the strip should be. Away fro airports, most waypoints are also equipped with beacons to allow aircraft to fly pretty much anywhere over land without GPS; with oceans, they would a good fix for their position, point the plane in the right direction and keep flying in the same compass direction until they hit another beacon so they can correct their heading.

          When on the ground, aircraft movements are controlled by folk looking down at the airport itself aided by ground RADAR

          1. -tim
            Coat

            Re: " jamming GPS next to an airport."

            About that "There are locator beacons that extend in straight lines from either end of the runway that allow the aircraft to align itself with the centerline of the strip rather than trying to map GPS coordinates to where the strip should be"...

            ILS is being its phased out plans (except at major airports), LORAN is nearly gone, ADB transmitters that fail are often not ever repaired. That is true for much of the USA, Europe and Australia. GPS (with some extra bits) is how planes will be expected to get to a runway in most of the world soon. Even the radar systems are being replaced by planes transmitting their GPS coordinates to each other and is even required to fly in airspare from W Australia all the way to Hawaii as a few years ago.

            1. Turbo Beholder
              Alien

              Re: " jamming GPS next to an airport."

              > GPS (with some extra bits) is how planes will be expected to get to a runway in most of the world soon.

              At least, those careless enough to rely on one system that's completely in someone else's hands. And specifically trust Americans this much (q.v.: Windows, banks).

  13. Caff

    Would this not be lethal is aimed at someone with a pacemaker or other medical device?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Would this not be lethal is aimed at someone with a pacemaker or other medical device?

      You mean like a firearm type of gun is? They might be, but a pacemaker is not a radio receiver and doesn't rely in external guidance, and must be able to work in all kinds of exposure to RF.

      Luckily these radio guns are only legal for feds.

      Unlike.....

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      It unlikely, unless some moron of a designer makes it dependant on having a signal.

      Firstly you can disrupt RF comms at levels way below those needed to actually damage electronics, and secondly most body implants have the benefit of flesh around them which works as a useful attenuator at the sort of frequencies these things work at.

      Still, if you need any medical electronics to live, best not to play with an ESD simulator or similar...

  14. Sceptic Tank
    Mushroom

    I'm off to the patent office with this:

    A large barreled air gun capable of hurtling a ball of loosely packed pieces of string towards said aircraft. (Or maybe packaging that resembles Enrique Iglesias' hands* to improve chances of making contact with the blades). Pieces of string will then become entangled in the rotors and flying machine will move towards the greatest source of gravity automatically.

    The burden of proof will lie with the owner of the device to prove that it was in fact *my* pieces of string that caused his machine to stop operating optimally and descend down the nearest gravity well.

    * How's he doing these days?

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      But then someone would just use razor-sharp blades, or install a grill over the blades to prevent your strings from getting in.

      A weighted net would probably be better, you might even be able to get the thing to descend slowly enough so that you can get yourself a new, intact drone.

  15. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Image: 2.4 GHz antenna, ~11 director elements, maybe +16dBi gain ($10 eBay)

    Re: Image of user carefully aiming the gadget.

    2.4 GHz antenna, ~11 director elements, maybe +18dBi gain (claimed).

    [PS: Such antennas are about $10 on eBay, shipped.]

    +18 dBi gain implies that the -3dB beamwidth is on the order of 26°. It's not exactly a laser beam.

    .: You don't really need to squint when aiming it.

    Battelle needs to update the User Manual. The user is trying too hard and doesn't understand the physics of antennas.

  16. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    And our pilot today is captain Fred Trubshaw, newly returned to work here at Crashlander Airlines after getting his nice new pacemaker. To our left you can see some idiot is buzzing us with a drone, but fear not. If you watch closely you will see it fly away after being bathed in radio noise that disrupts control signals, gps and medical ... Okay, crash positions everyone.

  17. Roger Mew

    So what is new

    Most radio amateurs can use a radio and build one. It is so farcical that the writer ought to be ashamed of themselves. The device is just a low powered wide band focused radio transmitter. The signal is just a radio transmission that MAY cover the frequency of operation. However, anybody that is a little sharp will build the TX /RX to use several frequencies and then as the frequency chopping hand held low power TX changes frequencies the drone picks its signal up from another frequency.

    Supposingly someone has put this out to "frighten" users, well there you are users and drone builders you know what to do. In fact if you really want to be clever then run a few kilowatts at a SHF and the drone will not even be affected.

    Do the people who write this drivel really think that a military drone in say Iraq being controlled by someone in say France can be stopped by a two penny halfpenny wide band low power transmitter.

    It may work on model aircraft type specs, but not on real drones.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I protest!

    as a law-breaking citizens, about the state creating such an unfair and uneven playing field! I've already placed an order for a special dron-zapping gun gun zapper on ebay.

    ...

    ...

    No officer, I was... it was..., well, it was actually a joke. Sir.

    ...

    No, sir, I don't think so either, sir.

    ...

    definitely not, sir.

    ...

    I would not either, sir.

    ...

    No, you're absolutely right it would NOT be a good idea.

    ...

    Absolutely, sir, I will most definitely, sir.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prosecute the perps

    All who illegally fly drones should be prosecuted.

    1. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: Prosecute the perps

      And in other news: The Turkish airforce today shot down their first drone in anger.

  20. bozoid

    Of course, this gadget will *also* disrupt communication with model aircraft which have no autopilots -- competition sailplanes, pattern ships, model warbirds, and all kinds of (sometimes large and heavy) aircraft whose only guidance system is a pilot on the ground with a 2.4GHz transmitter.

    Who will be liable when the idiots try to "disrupt" one of those?

    1. Turbo Beholder
      Facepalm

      No one.

      You know how often Jedi ubermenshen most of the time are allowed to get out of trouble via each other's testimony anyway? You know how carefree they are in application of supposedly "less than lethal" weapons?

      This one is supposedly harmless to humans... and traceless to begin with. The party will go WILD in no time.

      Also, "industrial, scientific, and medical" suggests much more possibilities than just "model aircraft".

  21. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "we're very particular about staying on the right side of the law"

    Errr...isn't that supposed to be the default position anyway?

  22. -tim
    Flame

    Sounds risky

    The Navstar GPS system is toy that belongs to the USAF and only to the USAF. They don't like people playing with their toys. Since that GPS sats can see your transmiter from orbit and their primary job has never been to provide consumers with location data, I expect every GPS jammer out there ends up on a screen deep in a mountin with popup box saying "Jammer located at 37.23501283° N, 115.81112921°, Kill it with fire Yes/No?"

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Raspberry Pi powered low cost battlefield variant?

    https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/disabling-drones-with-a-raspberry-rifle

    "About a million of you emailed us over the weekend about this new implementation of the Raspberry Pi, in a rifle-shaped device which the US Army’s Cyber Institute appears to have made in order to shoot down domestic drones for…a bit of a lark. [continues]"

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