Long distance jammer knocks drones from the sky


#1

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#2

Eh, don’t fly copters where you shouldn’t, and don’t knock them out of the sky where they are allowed.


#3

Is the drone yours? Is it flying over your property? If you can’t answer “Yes.” to either question then leave it the hell alone.


#4

So, rather than drop from the sky, according to the video (which they say is faked, but still is a realistic demo) it looks like the drone slowly descends while the “shooter” maintains their sight on the drone.

To me, it looks more like this “gun” is jamming the drone and forcing it into its failsafe mode, which makes it descend and land in a safe way. Quote from dronezone related to this:

Failsafe works differently depending on the mode the Phantom is in. When Failsafe mode is initiated whether it is in the Ready to Fly or Ready to Fly (non-GPS) mode.

Ready to Fly (non-GPS) – Automatic landing: The flight control system will try to keep the aircraft level during descent and landing. Note that the aircraft may be drifting during the descent and landing process.

Ready to Fly – Automatic go home and land: The flight control system will automatically control the aircraft to fly back to the home point and land.

Does this mean that this jammer only works on drones without GPS?


Huffing Boing Boing
#5

It would be interesting to know how effective, or not, this widget is against drones that give a damn, even modestly, about interference resistance.

The state of low end commercial drones, in terms of firmware and protocol security, is one of utter naivete and apathy. Plenty of demonstrated exploits, nobody cares very much(for the frustrating; but not entirely illogical, reason that a wifi link is much more compatible with tablets and smartphones, so doesn’t require buying a classic model-aircraft controller; but is otherwise treated as about as sensitive as classic unencrypted analog RC plane signals). On the navigation side, GPS is cheap and powerful, so there isn’t a lot of incentive, outside of research projects or individual labors of love, to implement a bunch of complex and mostly unused inertial, magnetic, optic flow rate, machine vision, etc. fallback methods.

If this device is intended for more than security theater or discouraging kiddies with low end Parrots, though, it seems like its limits would be very likely to become apparent against a drone with any nontrivial effort put into redundancy and resistance to interference.

(Also, am I the only one who suspects that the FCC might…have a few questions…for anyone operating that thing without some sort of fancy authorization? They don’t have the resources to chase down most violators; but one does not simply spew noise into the ISM band, and if they are hitting spectrum associated with GPS or other systems, that really, really, applies.)


#6

Meanwhile, RC planes and helicopters continue to be flown by hobbyists since they don’t have a name that instantly makes them evil.


#7

The PR mentions that it operates ‘on standard GPS and ISM radio bands’(which is a gutsy claim to make; the feds dislike anyone messing with GPS, even if the ISM band is something of a slum, I really have to wonder who would be willing to admit to operating one of these things outside of a test environment); so it would probably work on GPS-equipped drones as well.

GSP spoofing is something that is difficult to do elegantly(to improve fix times, most GPS chipsets maintain some records of where they were recently, so even if you have proper ‘GPS Simulator’ gear that allows the production of authentic-looking spoofed GPS signals, rather than mere jamming, you can’t just drop a sudden, huge, discontinuity in there and expect to go unnoticed; though you can gradually sneak error in, if the GPS isn’t backed by other navigational sources); but GPS signals are relatively faint, so if you simply wish to deny GPS to a given area, you won’t have much trouble shouting more loudly than the actual satellites.

Exactly what a given model of drone does if GPS suddenly freaks out and stops providing useful information would be firmware dependent; but falling back to the non-GPS failsafe behavior seems pretty plausible.

This system doesn’t appear to be intended for the purpose; but I imagine that a lot of cheapie drones are also crammed full of antennas and not exactly designed to survive exposure to RF at power levels substantially greater than expected. I like my corneas in their present non-cooked configuration too much to try; but it might be interesting to see whether your basic hobby drone would be pining for the fjords after a hit from a standard home microwave cavity magnetron hooked up to a reasonably directional antenna. If nothing else, the RX side of any cheap wifi gear probably isn’t expecting a ~1kw emitter in the 2.4GHz region to pop up. HERF guns are dubiously safe and even less legal; but I bet that they’d mess a drone up pretty well.


#8

There’s nothing like a little barrier to entry, and an established culture of non-shitheads who are associated with a hobby, to keep its most annoying potential at bay.

I assume that the professional security theater directors include any and all inexpensive unmanned aircraft in their assorted breathless threat assessments; but most of the generic grade idiocy is from people using ‘drones’, because the hardware sold by that name is the stuff where improved automatic stabilization and low cost mean that you can start doing idiotic things with 15 minutes of experience.

Traditional RC aircraft are often much more capable airframes(if not necessarily so good as the quad and hexcopters for loitering and staring impolitely), and I assume that their users haven’t ignored the new availability of cheap accellerometers and GPS and stuff; but there are far fewer annoying newbs coming out of that tradition.


#9

How is the FCC allowing this?


The article tries to say this device is in some legal grey area - supposedly because some states have proposed legislation to allow emergency services to take out drone but the FCC and federal law doesn’t seem to see it that way.


#10

Jamming is illegal, no?


#11

It has questionable legality I would think.


#12

The MQ-1 Predator’s auto-pilot can be programmed to climb into a holding pattern while it searches for a signal (with or without a GPS signal), then return to base under its own inertial navigation system after a user-defined time-limit if none is found. I don’t think it can land itself without GPS, but it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t regain signal as soon as it left the range of the jammer. I’d assume its new smaller professional military/police cousins have similar functionality, even if they lack a sophisticated INS.

I’m pretty sure jamming any of the GPS bands (including the L1 band used by most devices) is a pretty serious crime, focused beam or no focused beam.

Now if someone can scale down this EMP cannon to be vehicle-portable, that’s a bit harder:

A big UAV can carry about a metric ton, so building a Faraday cage around the electronics shouldn’t be too difficult. But shielding a smaller drone presents a problem. The more powerful the EMP, the more metal is needed to harden the electronics, which in turn means the battery and rotors need to be larger to lift more weight, which makes the craft less nimble and versatile. I can easily see a range of EMP cannons rated to knock out variously hardened vehicles both manned and unmanned. I’m sure someone at DARPA is dreaming about UAVs having EMP dogfights. Incidentally, EMP Dogfights is the name of my next EDM project.


#13

I assume these are being marketed only at federal/state/local government customers.


#14

Previously on BoingBoing:


#15

Battelle is an umbrella organization that manages several USG labs. My guess is this in development at their DHS lab, so Feds are a good bet, though DHS likes to dole out some of their toys to local LE (or rather, allocate them the budget and access to buy them) as an incentive for cooperation.

ETA: even if you could get or make your own jammer, you’d be breaking federal law if you used it. The military is authorized to jam radio signals. I don’t know about federal law enforcement. My guess is that the issue hasn’t ever come up before with local LE.


#16

If the whole slow-moving clusterfuck that is ‘stingrays’ is anything to go by, Officer Donut and Sheriff Cletus’ posse aren’t actually authorized to violate FCC regulations egregiously; but all you have to do is keep your mouth shut and avoid RF meltdowns too large to deny, and what’s the FCC going to do about it?


#17

Given that drones have antennas specifically designed to pick up signals at certain wavelengths, you wouldn’t necessarily even need enough power to get a hard-kill on the electronics to do mission-ending(and, for the cheap seats, probably not economically repairable) damage.

Drones have antennas specifically to collect energy in certain frequency ranges of interest and send it efficiently to sensitive RF silicon for processing. Unless you run into one that has some sort of elegant hardening of the antenna system(or switches off all antenna connections and operates autonomously during approach to a presumed-hostile target) you can likely do very unpleasant things to the ability of wifi, GPS, etc. receivers to ever do any receiving in the future at power levels well below generalized destruction of all non-hardened circuits. Not good enough to stop a ‘drone’ that is in full terminal-guidance-and-not-expecting-to-come-back mode; but if you burn out the wifi chipset and GPS, your basic cheapie drone will be flying deaf and require pretty substantial repairs.


#18

That gives me another idea. I wonder if specialized micro drones could be equipped to triangulate a jammer.

The FCC does have an enforcement bureau, but it doesn’t have the resources to mount police investigations (it’s a bunch of clerks and a few lawyers in an office investigating mostly corporate violators). They can refer cases to the FBI or the DHS, which might decide to go after local LE if they do something even stupider than usual like jam a DHS drone. However, it’s more likely that state governments will simply extend emergency powers to police to jam signals, as the linked article mentions California contemplating. Even if keystone kops screw up and get caught jamming drones, they’ll just file the paperwork retroactively and avoid reprimand that way.


#19

I saw that thing used in a porno.

For reals…


#20