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FAA Testing Drone Detection Systems At Airports

(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
The AIRFENCE system will be part of an FAA program to detect and identify drones flying too close to airports.

Every month the Federal Aviation Administration receives more than 100 reports of unmanned aircraft sightings from pilots, police and citizens. As the federal agency tries to send a message that flying drones without authorization around airports is dangerous and illegal, it’s also turning to the private sector to help spot – and possibly stop – drones from getting too close.

Tuomas Rasila holds a small metal box, about the size of an e-reader.

“It’s just like any Wi-Fi router,” he said. “You just plug it in and it works.”

What it does, Rasila said, is analyze radio waves to detect drones from two to six miles away. His company, Sensofusion, showed off the technology at the National Sports Safety and Security Conference in Phoenix earlier this month.

Kaveh Mahdavi who oversees company operations said sensors attached to vehicles can cover a wide area.

“So if a drone is flying in one direction, making a beeline for the stadium, let’s just say. Right away, that would raise a larger alarm to say, ‘Hey, why does this thing have a pre-programmed mission to land directly in the center of our football field?’”

Chief Executive Officer Rasila said several prisons, police departments and high-profile government buildings in Europe rely on their software to not only detect drones, but provide countermeasures.

“It can hijack a drone using radio,” he said.

After hijacking the drone, Rasila said authorized users can disable it, send it back to its original location or land it somewhere else.

The FAA’s Pathfinder Program will focus on detecting and identifying drones, not countermeasures, when it launches later this year. A spokeswoman for Sky Harbor Airport tells KJZZ that Phoenix is not a test site.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.