Aerospace Tests Drone Detection at Rose Bowl

Due to restrictions on flying UAVs, Ryan Speelman prepares a drone to drive around the Rose Bowl to simulate flight for Aerospace’s experiment. (Photo: Matthew Begert)

While others were watching football, a dedicated Aerospace team spent New Year’s Day testing a method of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) detection and takeover outside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.

With Aerospace’s proven testing and evaluation expertise, the team has been looking at ways to use radio frequency (RF) signals to detect, classify, locate, and potentially even take control of UAVs that pose a threat.

Whether it’s the hobbyist who inadvertently interferes with firefighting efforts, or a malicious individual trying to harm others, those operating UAVs have the potential to disrupt public safety.

As UAVs continue to proliferate, many entities, including law enforcement, operators of critical infrastructure, and private business owners, may have a need to protect themselves from unwanted UAVs flying in a certain area.

UAVs that are being actively controlled receive an RF signal from their controller. Aerospace has been investigating ways to detect that signal, gather data from it, and/or interfere with it.

While they have had success with their method when they have tested it on Aerospace’s campus, demonstrating it in a real-world setting where it might actually be used is critical to proving out the technology.

Coordinating with the Pasadena Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the Department of Homeland Security, Aerospace was able to conduct several tests at the Rose Bowl, including during the actual game on New Year’s Day. This is the type of location that might need protection from UAV threats, and it also poses a challenge since there is a lot of RF activity from television crews, cell phones, walkie talkies, and more.

The team used off-the-shelf hardware, but modified with Aerospace-developed algorithms, to detect and take positive control over a drone. The testing proved that the approach works under real-world conditions and without causing unwanted interference.

While this was done with a simulated drone threat and may have been a little less dramatic than the Stanford Cardinal trouncing the Iowa Hawkeyes nearby, the Aerospace team has now collected valuable data that they can use to further refine their algorithms and advance their efforts in counter-UAV technology. Not a bad start to 2016.

—Laura Johnson