ASX-listed company DroneShield got a lot of attention this week when it released its DroneGun.
The company has been in the drone detection space for three years – a comparative age – with its proprietary technology which uses acoustic recognition to detect drones and warn of their approach from up to kilometre away.
Detection is fine. And – declaration of interest time – DroneShield’s system made enough sense for me to chip in for a small holding.
Detection is handy in Australia too, where new regulations allow pilots to fly their drone as close as 30m away from you in your own backyard.
But it is especially handy in the US, where technically, it’s not illegal to own this:
You might have seen that (and its creator’s turkey-roasting flying flamethrower) last year, and while amendments to laws have been considered, it’s still okay to weaponise your drone in the US.
Try to shoot one down, however, and it’s you who could end up in jail, in the US or even here in Australia. So for now, the best you can hope for, according to DroneShield CEO James Walker, is:
“You get the warning, you go inside, you close the blinds if you’re really worried about getting your picture taken.”
But, as Walker said at the time, detecting drones was only part of the solution to a much wider problem of drones being very real threats to national, public and private security.
He hinted that a “total solution” was in the works at DroneShield. And now, another piece of the puzzle is in place.
DroneShield CFO Oleg Vornik tells us the most common question customers have is “now you’ve detected the drone, what are you going to do?”
Yesterday, DroneShield revealed the answer. The DroneGun is, quite clearly, a gun that “shoots down” drones. But it is so much smarter than that, for several reasons, the first being that it doesn’t actually “shoot down” anything.
That’s illegal, and it’s exactly the reason why it’s taken so long for such an obvious solution to hit the market.
The other is that it had to look bleeding cool, for various surprisingly logical reasons other than US Marines don’t want to walk around looking like they’re trying to find a decent television reception.
“You see some of our competitors use what basically look like wifi routers, a box with a bunch of antennas on it,” Vornik said. “That’s omnidirectional, so that jams 360 degrees. That amount of power means jamming over a much shorter distance.
“We have directional antennas, effectively what you see on the gun, that allows you to jam up to several kilometres.”
Vornik said that’s obviously an important feature to have, given it’s a point-and-shoot product. But it also makes sense to give customers something they’re familiar with.
“From aesthetic point of view we believe our customer, especially given it’s a new market, there would be law enforcement, military customers, so having a piece of kit that looks like other products that they’ve been dealing with as opposed to looking like a computer device will help from a marketing perspective,” he said.
But what DroneShield is really banking on is the DroneGun’s “passive” approach to takedowns. In Australia, North America and Europe, destroying a drone puts you in a legally grey area akin to if you’d shot down a light aircraft. In Australia in particular, if you were to use a shotgun, you’re also breaking some serious firearm usage laws.
“A lot of people don’t want to use kinetic guns to shoot the drones down,” Vornik says. “Mainly because that destroys evidence and also it doesn’t allow you to track the pilot.
“And there are a lot of countries where possessing a firearm is more of an issue than possessing a jammer, so that obviously opens up more of a market for us.”
Send it home
The DroneGun gives you two options – this one, which looks and no doubt feels like you control a real tractor beam.
And the other one, which Vornik mentions. Pull the trigger and the DroneGun sends the drone straight back to its owner – and lets you know exactly where said owner is controlling it from.
Which is very attractive for authorities, giving them a bead on might have just been trying to drop a bag of radioactive sand on the prime minister’s house. But there is also the delicate matter of the trucker dad who stumbles on a DJI Phantom hovering outside his teenage daughter’s bedroom.
DroneShield chairman Peter James says “being able to follow the drone back and then take whatever action is appropriate is attractive”, but the company’s expectation is the DroneGun is a tool for military, law enforcement and first responders.
And for now, he’d have to be a rich trucker dad. DroneShield won’t give out specifics, but let us know enough to know a DroneGun will set you back at least five figures.
Realistically, it’s not for personal use. Celebrities, their minders and their seven-star hotel hosts will think nothing of the price of such exclusive privacy protection, but no regular Joe is that paranoid about the coming drone invasion. Yet.
The DroneGun only jams common frequencies like those used by your wifi router or R/C car, and in fact, jamming is still illegal in Australia for anyone outside law enforcement or military.
“We’re limited in the US and Australia but will become more open over a period of time,” Vornik says. “There is something we see in the laws for drones themselves. In the new law framework at end of September, that’s the first real step towards treating drones like drones as opposed to aeroplanes.
“So the next step is changing laws about drone security. Countermeasure against drones is not the same as countermeasure against aeroplanes, so we expect some relaxation to come.”
And you can be sure the military is looking for a simple, elegant weapon for a more sophisticated age. In fact, the US Army ordered 100 jammers from a rival manufacturer in May.
The next step for DroneShield is to use the DroneGun to form part of a complete solution. It’s already working on a gimbal system for the gun which operates in conjunction with DroneShield sensor alerts.
“That effectively integrates detection with jammer,” Vornik says. “So when a drone comes in from particular direction, the gimbal swings the jammer to that direction and sends the drone back to where it came from.”
Your move, drones.
*The author of this article owns a small number of shares in the company that makes DroneGun.
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