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.

Dig IT Award Finalists

The GCN Dig IT Awards celebrate discovery and innovation in government IT.

There are 36 finalists this year. Each will be profiled in the coming days, and the winners for each category will be announced at the Oct. 13 Dig IT Awards gala.

See the full list of 2016 Dig IT Award Finalists

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 the Editor-in-Chief of both FCW and GCN, two of the oldest and most influential publications in public-sector IT. Both publications (originally known as Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News, respectively) are owned by GovExec. Mr. Schneider also serves GovExec's General Manager for Government Technology Brands.

Mr. Schneider previously served as New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company, where he oversaw the online operations of The Atlantic Monthly, National Journal, The Hotline and The Almanac of American Politics, among other publications. The founding editor of, Mr. 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, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

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


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