This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Drones proliferation poses a grave threat to vital infrastructure and government facilities. With a great many no-go zones that aren’t clearly delineated, drones or their pilots can easily cause considerable damage.
Geofencing technologies help reduce the odds of a malicious attack or an innocent mistake, but NASA thinks it has a better idea: Drone suicide.
A software system called Safeguard for drones monitors the drone’s proximity to FAA-designated no-fly-zones like airports, military installations, and stadiums. If the drone gets too close (however close authorities decide that to be), Safeguard instructs it to land. Should it continue flying, the software—which works independently of the drone’s flight controls — assumes a system failure and cuts off power. The drone falls from the sky like a stone.
The technology developed by NASA’s Langley Research Center, has reached the stage where the researchers can now use flight-qualified prototypes in tests and demonstrations.
According to wired.com, while many drones already rely on conventional geofencing to avoid restricted airspace. But the technology isn’t secure enough for professional and commercial-grade aircraft. For one thing, most geofencing systems rely on GPS, which is prone to signal loss or interference.
Indeed, a drone tumbling earthward seems less than ideal. Kelly Hayhurst, the NASA researcher who invented Safeguard, says the system is not intended for hobbyists flying over a city park, but for professionals using commercial drones for tasks near no-fly zones with few people around. Like, say, an aerial inspection of power lines near an airport, or a search-and-rescue mission near a military base.
Safeguard uses algorithms to track a drone’s movement relative to the geofences. That increases precision and reliability because the software does not rely upon external data streams. Of course, cutting power to the props is a last resort.
With safety certification in the bag, the next step is bringing Safeguard to market. Nothing requires drones to use the technology, but that could change as regulation gets stricter.
If successful, the system could be one fewer reason for drone-safety advocates to stay up at night—and one more incentive for drone manufacturers to make sure their systems stay away from no-fly zones on their own. Because no one wants to see their drone come tumbling out of the sky.