The domestic drone boom has an evil twin.
As the market for commercial unmanned aerial systems explodes, so does the potential for savvy entrepreneurs to make a few bucks by hawking a variety of anti-drone products.
An Oregon company known as Domestic Drone Countermeasures offers products that will render the craft “unable to complete their mission,” though the details remain under wraps pending a patent.
British designer Adam Harvey is pushing a line of “anti-drone wear,” including hoodies and scarves that will “thwart overhead thermal surveillance from drones.”
John Franklin, a D.C. man and aerospace industry employee, has begun an online effort to raise money for the “DroneShield,” which would sound an alarm when a drone is nearby.
“The customer base is really anybody who is concerned about their privacy,” Mr. Franklin said Tuesday.
Even the U.S. military, by far the largest customer for drone technology, has begun to deploy lasers specifically tailored to shoot unmanned aircraft systems out of the sky.
The rise of domestic drones has given birth to those and a growing number of other products that disable, destroy or otherwise neutralize the craft. Analysts say this is just the beginning.
The Federal Aviation Administration predicts that as many as 30,000 drones could be flying in American skies by 2020. Law enforcement, media outlets, farmers, first responders, surveyors and a host of others will be among the first in line to buy and use drones.
With that growth will come billions of dollars in economic activity, along with the creation of many thousands of jobs.
The flip side is one of public paranoia, as a growing number of Americans fear that drones represent the next large step in an erosion of personal privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. Leaders in the sector acknowledge that as long as those concerns exist, people will be developing and selling products to guard against surveillance in the sky.
“You’re going to get a whole subindustry of people providing jammers for systems, or creating a cone of silence [to hide from drones] or whatever else you’re looking for,” said Doug McDonald, director of the North Dakota-based Unmanned Applications Institute, a nonprofit that promotes the use of unmanned aircraft systems in the region.
The anti-drone hoodie and similar products, he said, will be appealing only to those who subscribe to the notion that drones represent the dawn of constant surveillance, a Big Brother-type society where all movements, words and deeds are captured.
“Better than a hoodie — tin foil will do the same thing. Maybe not as fashionable, though,” Mr. McDonald joked.
The developers of anti-drone technology argue that they are simply confronting reality. The U.S. drone market is expanding so quickly and is expected to grow so large, they say, that it’s natural and wise for average citizens to want to protect themselves and their families.
Domestic Drone Countermeasures says its products will impede “all typical drone sensors,” including camera capability. The company is offering “many different, large area, small area, mobile and fixed countermeasures.”
Its lead engineer, Tim Faucett, offers a simple explanation for why customers should want his products: “Everybody’s going to have access to a drone. People are going to have good intentions with them, and people are going to have bad intentions with them,” he told Scientific American magazine.
Protecting against those bad actors — soon to be equipped with small, undetectable drones with state-of-the-art cameras — is the goal of Mr. Faucett and others.
For Mr. Franklin, who is developing the DroneShield, the impetus for his invention came after he bought a small Parrot AR Drone and began flying it around his neighborhood. The craft can be bought online and in stores for about $300.
In Mr. Franklin’s case, he ended up crashing the drone in his neighbor’s yard.
“I had to go to their front door and apologize for landing a drone in their yard,” Mr. Franklin said. The ordeal helped him realize how beneficial a drone detection system could be, particularly to his neighbors.
He is experimenting with a number of technologies and is accepting donations to fund his research, and already is taking advance orders.
Mr. Franklin’s efforts are examples of how, for anti-drone businessmen, the time to invent, innovate, patent and sell is now.
For the drone industry, those efforts are proof that plenty of education and public relations work remains to be done.
“It makes everybody refocus on securing [citizens’] privacy” rights, Mr. McDonald said. “We just have to educate people more effectively. What we don’t want is to lose a technological advantage to the point where competing nations are ahead of us.”