ASX-listed tech company showcases anti-drone device Mesmer

Maryland-based tech firm Department 13 has displayed its counter-drone device Mesmer, which 'mesmerises' intrusive drones by manipulating its radio transmission protocols.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

US-based tech firm Department 13 has shown off its anti-drone device Mesmer, which takes control of intruding drones and forces them to land.

The ASX-listed firm's esky-sized device is intended for the protection of a fixed site, such as an airport, where it can use existing radar to detect intruding drones.

Previous methods to deal with nuisance drones have ranged from blasting it from the sky with a shotgun, snaring it in a net, or shooting it with an anti-drone drone -- the US military has used Hellfire missiles and 30 kilowatt shipboard lasers to destroy drones.

Conversely, Department 13 worked on a method that reduced the risk of any potential danger to nearby personnel or infrastructure.

"We believe that making drones fall from the sky is a bad thing," chief executive Jonathan Hunter said, who pointed to an incident last year when a drone carrying radioactive material was found on the roof of the Japanese prime minister's office.

"If they had shot that out of the sky, they would have dispersed radiological material everywhere," Hunter said. "That would have shut down Tokyo for at least a month."

With the Mesmer device, Department 13 can manipulate radio transmission protocols that are used to control drones. This is made possible because most commercial drone radio controls operate in established frequency bands and use standard command protocols.

"We make the drone listen to only us," Hunter said. "Once we take control of the drone, we can land it, we can make it go back home, we can do passive video tapping so we can see what the drone is looking at without the end user knowing," he said.

"We can do basically anything we want with that drone."

Department 13 has so far performed trials in Sydney; Carrara, Queensland; and the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra for potential Australian customers and stakeholders. The company said Mesmer's pricetag of $1 million is expected to fall once the tech matures.

"Having successfully validated the technology with a number of prospective tier one defence and security customers in the US, we are delighted to now showcase Mesmer in Australia, with the milestone taking us closer to commercial product launch in January 2017," Hunter said.

Department 13's demonstration in Queensland was hosted at the Metricon Stadium, the primary venue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which the company said "represents the sort of use case scenario which could be rolled out by Department 13 globally".

Aside from drone defence, the company has 13 patents and 22 patent applications, in areas such as cellular communications and networking, data bandwidth, and cybersecurity for mobile devices.

Drones have been utilised across a range of industries, from real estate, police surveillance, and pizza delivery. But the proliferation of cheap drones has coincided with a rising misuse. Criminals use them to deliver contraband, while last month, Islamic State was found using drones for bomb attacks.

A result of this has been a push in counter-drone technology among governments and agencies, including the US military's Black Dart exercise series, which tests various commercial and military solutions.

Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began trials of the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), to detect and identify potentially dangerous or hostile drones in the near vicinity to airports.

The anti-drone ray, which uses thermal imaging for drone detection, was developed in response to the concurrent issue of people flying private drones far too close to airports. The FAA said it receives more than 100 reports each month from pilots and others who spot unmanned drones flying too close to airplanes.

Malware can also hack consumer drones. Security researcher Rahul Sasi previously suggested that AR quadcopter helicopter drones are vulnerable to malware strain Maldrone.

With AAP

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