A group of Australian students are working on a new technology that could help track and bring the rogue drones that have been wreaking havoc at airports and bushfire areas around the country down.
The Edith Cowan University students are working on a project that would make it easier for authorities to track malicious drones, disable them if needed and find out who their owner is.
The project, dubbed Spectrum Watch, utilises a range of wi-fi sensors to monitor the signals sent between a drone and its human controller. It can then isolate just the traffic to the drone, monitor it in real time and then allow authorities to take the appropriate action if needed if a threat is present.
The students are also looking to use digital forensics to extract data from the drone once it has been downed, including its flight path, any images or videos it may have recorded and who owns it.
The project is being done as part of ECU’s Security Research Institute’s Summer of Cyber program, which offers a seven-week paid internship for students from the university’s cyber security program.
ECU Security Research Institute director Professor Craig Valli said the issue the group is looking to address will only get worse in the future.
“The fact is that there’s an incredibly low barrier to entry and we’re hopelessly unprepared for the variety of threats posed by a malicious actor using a drone,” Professor Valli said.
Drones are becoming a growing problem for authorities in Australia, and have caused disruption to airports and firefighting efforts.
Earlier this year, two drones were spotted flying near water-bombing aircraft fighting a fire in the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia, forcing the aircraft to be grounded for safety reasons. This meant that an estimated 100,000 litres of water was not dropped on the fire. A multi-agency investigation has now been launched into the incident, and neither the drone or its owner have been located.
Australian airports have a 5.5km exclusion zone surrounding them, but according to Airservices Australia, pilots have spotted 468 drones around the country in the last two-and-a-half years. More than 200 of these sightings were at Sydney airport.
Drones pose a significant safety threat to planes and have led to airports being shut down around the world.
Last year Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom was shut down for three days after a number of alleged drone sightings near its runways, while Heathrow Airport has also been briefly shut down for similar reasons.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is attempting to crack down on drone usage in Australia, and will be rolling out a new licence and registration scheme in July. Under the new rules, commercial and recreational drone users will have to obtain a “flyer’s licence” and register all devices weighing more than 250g.
CASA has also recently bolstered its own surveillance capabilities, and will be using portable surveillance equipment to identify drone activity around Australian airports.