New Tech Promises to Stop Drones from Overflying Stadiums — and Find the People Flying Them

Uruguay's goalkeeper Fernando Muslera picks up a drone which landed on the field during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015.

Uruguay's goalkeeper Fernando Muslera picks up a drone which landed on the field during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Franklin Jacome/AP

Raytheon says its products helped police nab four flying drones over an outdoor concert.

Companies are touting new technology that allows stadium operators to spot hobby-shop drones and find the people flying them—even as legislators are trying to find the right way to regulate law enforcement's ability to down or disable drones.

The technology is already being tested at venues in the United States and has led to the apprehension of at least four people, according to Raytheon, one of the companies that make counter-drone systems.

“Drones are becoming a significant nuisance factor for everything from concert venues to football venues…where everybody is concerned about it,” said Todd Probert, vice president of command and control, space and intelligence at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services.

While Raytheon is better known as a military supplier, executives see a growing market for non-lethal counter-drone technology that could be used by law enforcement or stadium operators. The company is also developing standards for using this technology.

Aside from laws and regulations that limit law enforcement’s ability to shoot down small drones, there are safety issues as well. For one, a drone falling into a crowded stadium could injure or even kill spectators below.

So stadiums are turning to radars and high-powered cameras to spot drones, allowing law enforcement to take “more measured responses” than blasting them out of the sky. 

“We’re testing this market so we’re doing a lot of exploratory-type of activities,” Probert said.

U.S. regulatory hurdles make it tricky. For instance, anti-drone systems cannot jam the signal between the drone and its human controller—even though that technology already exists for the military.

“The solutions we’re putting in the field do two things; they identify where the drone is, which is important, but they also identify where the source of control of the drone is,” Probert said. 

The company has already conducted a number of “beta tests” at stadiums and concert venues, Probert said. “We’ve been contacted by a number of sporting venues,” he said. 

During a recent test at a concert, Probert said, Raytheon’s technology spotted four drones and the operators. The locations of the people flying the drones were then given to police. Probert declined to say the location of the concert.

Another company, DroneShield, said its technology spotted a drone flying over a college football game in August. Police arrested the drone operator, the company said in a statement, which did not identify where the location of the incident.

Two people were arrested after allegedly flying a drone over a college football game at Michigan Stadium, The Detroit News reported. The incident happened in late August. It’s unclear whether the incidents are the same.

“The threat has come on the scene in such a rapid pace that everybody’s reacting to it,” Probert said.

There have been a number of global incidents involving hobby-shop drones. In August 2018, two drones exploded near Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who was speaking in Caracas.

In 2017, a drone crashed inside Petco Park during a San Diego Padres baseball game. Months later, police arrested a man for flying a drone over a San Francisco 49ers football game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

The technology could become even more important as drone-based delivery services begin operations. That could open a new market for air traffic radars, particularly in urban areas, Probert said. In addition to sporting and concert venues, the technology is being considered to protect tourist locations, airports and critical infrastructure.

“All of those entities [are] having to contend with this threat,” Probert said. “None of those entities [are] wanting to put in a more dramatic or … more military-like, answer to it. It just isn’t tenable for the use case. You don’t want to shoot something down and have it fall on the public that you’re trying to protect from it.”

Raytheon also makes lasers, missile interceptors, radars and electronic jammers for the military that detect, track and shoot down low-flying drones in more austere areas near bases.

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