The “Game of Drones” outdoor demonstration that took place during the AFWERX Fusion event was notable for several reasons. The ThunderDrone outdoor demonstration that took place at Nellis Air Force Base not only provided a detailed look at what drone technology is capable of, but also demonstrated what kinds of security solutions are going to make sense with anti-drone technology.
Predictions about the proliferation of anti-drone/counter-UAS solutions have come true in a big way this year, so it’s no surprise to see the topic take center stage at an event that brings together small business, entrepreneurs and academia to showcase innovative solutions for existing Air Force focus areas. This year, a big emphasis was placed on site security issues, which is part of the reason that initially, 93 counter-drone technology companies formed teams to be part of the competition. Eventually, this number was narrowed down through a series of three rapid prototyping events.
The results of the competition highlight the need for a multi-modal solution, given the difficulties around one company being able to adequately provide a complete security solution for the industry. Dedrone’s team of Echodyne Corporation, Squarehead Technologies and Battelle, won first place by providing three complementarily detection technologies. It’s an exciting victory for these companies, but it’s also indicative of how things can and should develop for the technology and the industry as a whole.
“Given the volume and level of competition, the competition clearly demonstrates that counter UAS (C-UAS) capabilities are maturing rapidly,” said Eben Frankenberg, Echodyne’s CEO. “By end of the year, we hope that Congress has authorized interdiction of rogue drones for DHS, DOJ, and their agencies and contractors. Combining technology capabilities with authorization directly leads to organizations with the capability to legally deploy 3D security solutions to protect critical infrastructure and public spaces.”
The competition itself is a perfect illustration of what experts mean when they talk about the incredible pace of drone technology since the solutions on display at the event were realistically only within the reach of government entities a few years ago. The competition demonstrated that layered technology solutions have matured to cover 99% of likely encounters. These security systems are now ready for fielding in Border Security, Prison Security, Stadium Security, Portable Field Kit for Military users or any place else where drones pose a potential threat. The technology on display during the competition is designed to be adopted and utilized by a variety of users that range from small businesses to local municipalities to large commercial enterprises.
Team Dedrone bested five other teams in the last of three ThunderDrone rapid prototyping events that were focusing on countering small, unmanned aerial drones. The team successfully demonstrated the capabilities of a layered detection, tracking, classification and mitigation solution that defends protected airspace against aerial drone threats. It’s exciting to consider what these results could mean for future contests, although future showcases of this technology could take place in a much different format.
“Drone security solutions that involve a defeat will still be relegated to federal agencies for the foreseeable future which limit the number of competitions like the one put on by SOFWERX,” said Alex Morrow, Technical Director of C-UAS Programs at Battelle. “The cost to put on these competitions inherently limits the number of competitions that will occur, but I could see fewer competitions and more technology evaluation events focused on a smaller set of companies based on what was learned at Game of Drones.”
The event provided a level playing field that enabled the objective evaluation of various pieces of security technology and solutions. There’s a lot that can go into the testing of the validity of certain solutions, because not everything works as advertised. There’s general confusion in the market about what some products actually can and can’t do, and everyone does not have the time to perform robust tests that puts systems through the paces to determine whether or not they actually work. The ThunderDrone outdoor demonstration provided viewers with a clear sense of what the capabilities of these security solutions actually look like.
Armed with these specifics, stakeholders will be able to use data to inform their decision-making process. These sorts of events could become essential when it comes to determining whether a particular solution is going to work as advertised, but that’s not their only benefit. They also enable and encourage collaborations like the one that took place between Dedrone, Echodyne Corporation, Squarehead Technologies and Battelle, which is the type of relationship that’s only going to become more and more important.
“Since we began our C-UAS program at Battelle more than 4 years ago, we have been confident that no single C-UAS technology or methodology would form the complete end-to-end C-UAS solution,” Dan Stamm, C-UAS Program/Portfolio Manager at Battelle, told Commercial UAV News. The drone industry and technology are evolving so quickly that a single method of detection or defeat will either be ineffective or cost-prohibitive for even the best-funded government organizations. I am very excited that this competition clearly emphasized that point.”
The team showed that multiple, relatively low-cost technologies, can integrate smoothly, can be upgraded quickly and efficiently, and can easily have supplementary technologies added to form the basis for a strong, long-term, and comprehensive defense system. They proved that complete airspace security that is safe from all drone threats is a realistic option for a variety of users.
Those users are already beginning to explore where and how anti-drone technology might be a fit for their organizations and options around being able to create future technology evaluation events based on what was learned at Game of Drones are already being discussed. These solutions could also be explored in deep-dive workshops, and it’s exciting to consider where things can go with anti-drone technology and the demonstrations of these solutions in the future.
“It’s early stage, but we’re hopeful that the demonstration has initiated or further developed discussions in the federal space, but also outside of it,” said Phil Pitsky, Dedrone team lead at ThunderDrone. “There was never a promise about what was going to happen if our test went well, but we did have a lot of engagement with operators and users, so we believe this was a great first step to having an honest discussion about what’s possible.”