COLUMBUS — Two central Ohio inventors and engineers developed a new tool aimed at stopping rogue drones from threatening our military, security or the community.
Surging in popularity, drones and unmanned aircraft are the newest eyes in the sky, and while technology is rapidly evolving, so are their uses.
Federal aviation data shows hundreds of drones registered in Ohio alone. However, city, county and federal law enforcement officials cannot point to anything that’s in place to stop unmanned aircraft wanting to do harm.
Dan Stamm and Alex Morrow work at Battelle and noticed drones have gotten into the wrong hands, putting people and property at risk.
“We had kind of a brainstorming session coming up with different ideas,” Morrow said. “Anything was open.”
They developed the DroneDefender, which can jam the signal between a drone and its pilot. It would have been especially helpful to stop drones from dropping drugs at jails, threatening commercial air traffic and combating terrorist groups overseas.
“It is a growing need and it is growing just as fast as the drone proliferation is growing,” Stamm said.
The DroneDefender resembles a rifle and was developed in the Battelle lab in Columbus. The engineers explained it was a good collaboration with Morrow’s experience in optics and Stamm’s experience with military defense systems.
The tool uses frequencies to disrupt and requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission. That has made testing difficult and limited, they said.
“We weren’t confident it was going to work and you have 50 people watching in a field,” Stamm said.
The first time the pair was allowed to try it out was in front of government employees and potential buyers. Stamm aimed the DroneDefender at the aircraft and pulled the trigger. The drone was disabled and brought down, safety landing.
“I was ready to do some cartwheels and jump and holler and everything else,” Stamm explained.
Right now, because of federal restrictions, only the U.S. government or foreign militaries can buy a DroneDefender. Mainly that’s because GPS and signal disruption requires approval. Even local and state law enforcement have to rely on other options.
Some other inventors came up with different tools including a gun that shoots a large net to nab an enemy drone or trained falcons that can snatch a rogue drone from the sky.
However, the DroneDefender doesn’t require a close range and the two engineers said they can take control of an unmanned aircraft that’s barely visible.
They hope Congress will help loosen restrictions on their creation so local police can better protect, especially with drones being modified with guns or a flame thrower. Lobbying congress is happening now.
In the end, their goal has always been safety in the sky with a new push to expand on their technology.
“It’s a really rewarding experience,” Morrow said. “Being able to get it to soldiers and saving lives, that’s been driving me personally a lot harder than I would normally go.”
“The fact that we can do some really amazing things here in central Ohio, I’m really proud of that,” Stamm said.
More than 100 DroneDefenders have been sold to federal government agencies and foreign militaries.