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With more drones in the sky every year, 'counter-drone' tech can keep the bad ones at bay

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Why we need counter-drone technology now more than ever
Key Points
  • By 2022, the FAA expects we'll have 2.9 million drones flying in the US.
  • In Atlanta, unauthorized drones inundated air space over the stadium set to host the Super Bowl, days ahead of the game on Sunday.
  • Now, counter-drone tech is popping up everywhere to keep the bad drones away.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that in 2017, there were 1.2 million commercial and hobbyist drones in the US. By 2022, they expect that number to more than double, to 2.9 million.

That's because drones are enormously helpful. They can create beautiful aerial photography, help fight fires, detect leaks in oil and gas pipelines, and deliver medical supplies where road access is limited.

While most drone operators fly in good faith, bad actors can do tremendous damage. At the extreme, militias, drug cartels and others are using commercial and consumer drones as weapons.

In January, The Associated Press reported, Houthi rebels used a drone equipped with explosives to attack people at a military parade killing six in Yemen. And last summer, assailants used drones armed with explosives to attack Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at an event where he giving a speech outdoors in Caracas.

This weekend, unauthorized drones buzzed over the stadium that will host the Super Bowl this Sunday, proving a nuisance to law enforcement in Atlanta. Meanwhile, drones are increasingly disrupting air travel.

While regulators and legislators hash out the new rules around drones, a handful of companies are trying to ensure safety with "counter-drone" tech.

Joerg Lamprecht, Dedrone Founder and CEO

Counter-drone systems made by the likes of Dedrone and DJI can detect, identify and help stop drones from flying where they're not permitted. They employ sensors, software and telecommunications to monitor and identify airborne drones.

Other systems — developed by companies like DroneShield, Rafael, Leonardo Company and Fortem — employ signal jammers, ballistics, lasers, and nets that can take drones down, if it's safe and legal to do so.

Dedrone CEO Joerg Lamprecht explained recently that, "quite frankly, laws will not keep drones away. You know it's illegal to fly near an airport. But that doesn't stop drones. The only thing that will stop drones is technology. And that's what we're here for."

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Key Points
  • Unauthorized drones halted flights at London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports in recent weeks, a wake-up call for airports and aviation authorities around the world.
  • Flights delayed due to drone sightings are on the rise in the U.S. as well, according to anecdotal data gathered by the Federal Aviation Authority.
  • Industry experts are calling for regulatory clarity and adoption of "counter-drone" tech at airports to avoid even worse incidents. No fatalities or major crashes have been caused by errant drones at airports — so far.