The Evolution of Small Drone Technology

We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving, and drones are one of the latest technological innovations with amazing implications for the future. Since World War II, drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), have been used in various capacities but have recently become more popular because of their increased availability.

Drones come in many different shapes and sizes, making them suitable for all kinds of purposes. However, just like any other new technology that's becoming increasingly popular, there are risks associated with it too. Here we uncover how drone technology has evolved over time as well as some potential threats that drones pose to society at large.

Evolution of drone technology

During World War II, the first drones were used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. They were large, unwieldy, and required considerable manpower to operate. However, advances in technology have made them smaller, more agile, and easier to control. Remote pilots can now operate small UAS (sUAS) using a remote control or even a smartphone app. This relatively new ease of use has made them more accessible to the average person and increased their popularity.

Drones are now being used for various purposes such as photography, videography, delivery services, agriculture, etc. Starting in the past several years, you can buy small quadcopters at toy stores or on Amazon for personal use. One of the most popular commercially available drones, the DJI Mavic, entered the market in 2016 and has since become wildly popular amongst professionals and hobbyists alike.

Kids and hobbyists across America receive GPS-guided, gimbal-stabilized, and intelligently automated drones for Christmas; small drones are now that commonplace and easy to acquire. Their popularity, low cost and skill barrier to entry, and limited regulation have led to an increased demand for drones and their components, which in turn has fueled rapid technological advancement of this sector.

A recent study by PwC found that over half of the American public (54%) is aware of commercially available drones, and nearly one-third (31%) has seen a small drone in person. Furthermore, about two-thirds (66%) of those who are aware of drones would consider buying or using a drone for personal use. These statistics show a high demand for commercially purchased drones and that their popularity is only going to increase in the future.

Although commercially purchased drones can be used for harmless purposes such as photography or videography, they can also be used for nefarious activities such as spying or even terrorism. In fact, there have been several cases where commercial drones have been used to carry out illegal activities domestically and abroad.

Threats associated with drones

Drones are being used worldwide for various applications, which means that they have become an integral part of our lives. However, drone technology has the potential to be misused. The most obvious threat is that it allows people who fly them to go places they otherwise couldn't get into easily.

Lone wolves or even coordinated cells can use sUAS surveillance to case and penetrate test their targets. Terrorists could arm them and use them for suicide bombings or mass shootings. Smugglers can clandestinely deliver illicit goods across borders or fortified walls. Robbers can survey targets, etc.

Having access to drones means that people can surveil others more easily than before, making it easier for them to commit crimes without getting caught. This has made using counter-surveillance technology like CCTV cameras and anti-drone jammers very popular in recent years because they effectively protect you from potential harm caused by someone flying a drone near people and property.

Troops in Myanmar attaching explosives to a commercially available DJI Phantom drone

UAS technology in the wrong hands clearly poses a considerable hazard to society at large by allowing people who don't have good intentions to easily gather information without anyone noticing or suspecting anything out of the ordinary. This could lead to personal data theft or even sabotage if someone wanted to disrupt the country's critical infrastructure.

Their potential applications are endless, and they are rapidly evolving into a very versatile tool as drone tech is evolving at breakneck speed. But this could be seen either as good news or bad depending on the user or pilot. However, the fact remains that there are real risks associated with their increased popularity.

Onyx Industries' red cell team has expertise in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), having spent years employing UAS in combat in a range of novel methods to maximum effect. Learn how our knowledge and expertise can be your advantage for security.

How can counter-drone technology solve this problem?

Small size and ability to fly inconspicuously make commercially available unmanned systems extremely hard to detect, which is why counter-drone technology has become our best bet for successfully countering this new kind of threat. There are different kinds of counter-UAS (C-UAS) technologies available on the market, such as military-grade jammers that use radio waves to disrupt the drone's communication with its operator or GPS so it becomes unable to navigate or adequately locate itself accurately enough.

Another type of anti-drone tech is the use of directed energy that interferes with a drone's sensors and communication systems, which makes it much harder for them to fly properly or land without crashing into something first. These countermeasures can only be used in certain situations because they're not always practical. Still, when it comes down to protecting sensitive areas like airports against drones, C-UAS technologies provide us with our best bet at stopping bad actors from successfully using them as weapons.

While there are several advantages to the increased use of drone technology, it's critical that we not overlook the hazards and become complacent.

Implications for Defense and Critical Infrastructure

The Department of Defense is currently taking a two-pronged approach to the use of drones. The first line of defense is education and raising awareness about the threat that unauthorized or hostile drones pose to our military installations. The second layer of protection is developing technologies that can detect, track, and ultimately neutralize any drone entering unauthorized airspace.

Currently, the DOD is working on several different technologies that can address this problem. One solution involves using a system known as "Drone Defender," a man-portable system that uses radio waves to disrupt the communication between the drone and its operator. This system renders the drone unable to navigate or even return to its starting point.

Critical infrastructures such as power grids, oil pipelines, transportation hubs & routes, and more can have critical vulnerabilities that a $100 drone and some ingenuity can temporarily or permanently damage. Whether intentional or accidental, misuse of sUAS can have serious ramifications amounting to thousands of times the cost it takes to acquire and employ a small drone.

It is clear that this new kind of security threat requires the development and deployment of cutting-edge technologies in order to counter it effectively. This problem will only become more pronounced as unmanned aerial systems continue to evolve into increasingly complex devices while also becoming much easier to use, which could eventually lead to a massive proliferation in their use.

While the increased popularity of drone technology brings many benefits, it also poses a number of risks of which we need to be aware. These include the misuse by terrorist groups, data theft, and privacy concerns, as well as the dangers posed by counter-drone technologies.

However, with proper awareness, planning, and appropriate countermeasures, we can continue to reap the benefits of this incredible technology safely and securely.

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