Anti-drone technology easily circumvented, say experts

Dublin Airport forced to suspend flights on several occasions in recent weeks due to drone activity

Concern has been expressed that some anti-drone technology under consideration to prevent further flight disruptions at Dublin Airport can be easily circumvented by anyone familiar with the technology.

The Government has given the green light to the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) to buy drone countermeasures which reportedly include systems to interrupt the radio signals between the operator and the drone to quickly disable any sighted near the airport.

However, drone experts have pointed out that self-built drones can easily be programmed to continue flying even if the radio signal between device and the drone operator is lost.

Philip Rowse, chief technology officer with CubePilot, an Australian-based company which develops drone software and hardware, expressed surprise any airport would lean so heavily on radio jamming technology as the first line of defence.


“We build drone autopilots [and] surviving jamming is a significant part of what we do,” he said. “The autopilot system we sell now we developed over 10 years ago [and] it’s fairly prolific around the industry. Most drones use a similar technique, where if the radio signal is interrupted, whether it’s by jamming or just out of range, you can actually tell it what behaviour you want the vehicle to do.”

He said drones could be easily programmed to “just continue the mission or go to a safe place” if the radio signal was interrupted. “It doesn’t just randomly land at the spot where the signal is lost,” he said.

According to Mr Rowse, the most effective systems are based around detection of both the drones and the operators in real time. “Detection is the key,” he said.

Ian Hudson, a Bradford-based drone enthusiast who runs a related Twitter account with more than 17,000 followers, said drones could be easily modified to evade jamming technology while many self-built vehicles were already designed to cope with a loss of radio signal.

He said “if someone is half competent” they can turn off the parameters connected with radio transmission and tell the drone to fly to a set location before returning to their base.

He also pointed out that the default option for many drones was not to land when they lose radio signal but to return to their home base.

“So even if a drone’s signal is jammed, it will be sent back to the owner who can simply ping it back to the airport if they want,” he said.

He said jammers had a role to play at airports but said they were “normally an add-on to a really good detection system and not a first line of defence”.

While the DAA has been tasked with establishing anti-drone measures, it has stressed it believes the responsibility should rest in the first instance with the authorities including the Garda.

Responding to queries about the potential use of radio jamming technology, a spokesman for the DAA said it was “progressing at pace the deployment of operationally proven anti-drone technology”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast