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Protecting airports from the intrusion of small unmanned aerial systems has become a considerable challenge. A game-changing technology, based on a network of passive rooftop sensors that capture electro-optical and infrared data (EO/IR), continuously scans the sky – at a much lower cost than radar, serving as a “Drone Net.” The system now under development at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University could provide a cost-effective way to protect small airports, university and corporate campuses, farms or other operations from irresponsible drone operators. The perimeter monitored encompasses about 1 square kilometer.

In the future, if the Drone Net’s all-sky camera and connected acoustic network detect a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) without a flight plan, or off its flight plan, the all-sky camera will cue an EO/IR camera to slew and track the sUAS with high-resolution visible and infrared imaging until the non-compliant sUAS leaves the area, according to  

Ultimately, the goal of the research is to help law enforcement distinguish between responsible drone operators and possibly hostile ones by creating a database of drone “fingerprints.” The researchers will compare and validate data captured by the Drone Net with information from many other types of passive and active sensors.

To help Embry-Riddle’s Drone Net recognize different types of drones, the developers had to manually annotate a large collection of images. Since then, Embry-Riddle researchers have been working on a machine-based learning system so that the Drone Net can automatically classify aerial objects.