Every good invention can be twisted for evil intents and RPASs (remotely piloted air systems) are no exception. First developed to allow soldiers to see “over the hill”, they are now found in many toy shop and are cheap enough that they can be afforded by almost everybody. Clever clogs have already used their toys to fly into no-fly zones alerting authorities to the fact that these drones are becoming a real security nightmare. So the industrial race is on to see who can be the first to come up with the best solution to detect, identify and neutralise the very RPASs that they invented in the first place!
Thales seems to be concentrating on the detection/identification duo, the company conceding that it has no other solutions for neutralising RPASs apart from scrambling the data link in urban zones or simply shooting them down in combat situations. The company has however found a possible solution to the problem posed by tracking drones through the myriad of obstacles from buildings to hills via dunes or tunnels that can interrupt tracking of the RPAS. These obstacles are the reason the ambitious, if discreet, Smart Vision programme was launched in September 2015.
At first sight its principle, based on two technologies, is extremely simple. Smart Sensor Grid combines data from a multitude of sensors – basically the CCTV cameras which many cities have already deployed, and radars – to detect, identify and follow a suspect RPAS in real time. When it disappears behind an obstacle, Predictive Tracking automatically takes over to calculate all possible paths the drone might take so that the operator knows which sensors he should watch to quickly recuperate a visual or radar cue. Once the drone has reappeared it will once again be automatically followed by the network of sensors.
Far from stopping at the idea stage, some 15 experts from Thales Training Systems, Thales Research & Technology and Thales Optronique SA have already undertaken a series of virtual simulations in a cleverly reconstituted 3D version of Marseilles. Thanks to a network of HD cameras, the team was able to find, identify and continuously track a mini-drone that was practically invisible to the human eye.
The immediate objective? Demonstrate the pertinence of the concept during next week’s Eurosatory land, air-land and security show in Paris. And, why not, take advantage of the feed-back from official delegations, VIPs and other visitors who will have seen it to explore new avenues?
Thales admits that there is still a lot of work to be done. Smart Vision is just at the conceptual phase, the algorithms used needing improvement. For example, the zig-zag path calculated for the drone by Predictive Tracking is far from the reality of the straight line really flown.
Finding a solution to rogue drones is thus more than ever a subject of concern both for governments and industries who, like Thales, created the problem by inventing RPASs and which now need to find a solution to fight them. Proof of the importance of the threat: we received, whilst writing this post, two communiques for Eurosatory. The first from the Dutch company Robin Radar who is unveiling ELVIRA, a new “radar system to detect RPASs” and the second from French company CS who is presenting BOREADES, a system to detect, neutralise and recuperate RPAS. So, at least two more solutions to consider.