Protecting the perimeter as drones proliferate

DIG IT AWARD FINALIST: Robotics, Automation and UAS

Protecting the perimeter as drones proliferate

An unauthorized unmanned aerial system can wreak havoc near an airport. And although the Federal Aviation Administration is working hard to educate and regulate private UAS operations, it's clear that additional defenses are needed.

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SkyTracker, a system developed by CACI, could be part of that solution. Early in 2016, the FAA tested SkyTracker as part of its Pathfinder Program, which is evaluating technologies that can detect and identify drones flying too close to airports. In 141 operations over five days at the Atlantic City, N.J., airport, SkyTracker detected, identified and tracked drones in flight, located operators on the ground and avoided any interference with airport ground operations.

The system is composed of strategically located radio frequency sensors that detect common UAS frequencies and triangulate the location of both the device and the operator. Because the system passively tracks drones via their RF signatures, there are no false positives from birds, and drones can be linked to their operators. The reliance on RF technology also means drones of any size can be tracked in all weather, day or night.

The FAA's Pathfinder Program is still in the testing and evaluation phase, but it's clear that solutions like SkyTracker will be needed -- not only at airports, but for critical infrastructure, large-scale public events and elsewhere.

“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” said Marke Gibson, the FAA’s senior adviser on UAS integration, at the time of the SkyTracker tests. “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our No. 1 mission.”

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of, Schneider also helped launch the political site in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times,, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.

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