Archive: Jun 2016

  1. The Incendiary Device in Your Drone

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    By Robi Sen, Founder and CTO

    Here at Department 13 we spend a lot of time examining the total threat drones present to the public -- either by flying into sensitive airspace and disrupting commerce and commercial travel or, worse the threat posed by those with hostile intent.

    What we often overlook is the inherent threat posed by the drone itself – that these flying objects can be dangerous when they lose control or crash. While a drone can cause property damage or injury through impact (we will blog about the connection between counter drone technology and the insurance industry in our next post) many drones represent a potential hazard due to the common use of various batteries, such as Lithium Polymer (LiPo), that when damaged can rapidly catch fire or even explode. This may seem more hypothetical risk but in fact, there have been confirmed cases of drones crashing and the batteries catching fire and causing everything from minor property damage, to igniting grass fires, to burning down homes. While most drone users understand they have to be diligent in care of their batteries few understand the risk their drones and the drone batteries represent when they crash.

    LiPo batteries are generally made up of layers of soft of flexible pouches of lithium ion cells. If these pouches are in anyway compromised or penetrated, for example in a crash, the electrolyte solution can leak and create a short. This can result in a large amount of heat with creates a rapid expansion of gases and can result in the battery exploding. When the battery explodes the electrolyte can then catch fire as its exposed to oxygen in the air. The result is an energetic fire. To demonstrate -- Phoenix Drone Systems, (services partner with Department 13), placed a damaged LiPo battery in front of a camera to show how rapidly it can break down and start burning which you can see in video 1.

    Video 1:  Damaged LiPo battery rapidly catching fire.

    In video 2 we see a drone flying in a neighborhood at it crashes while the drone’s camera continues to film. The drone’s battery ruptures and it starts to catch fire yet the drone continues to film for a short period of time. This is why most professional drone pilots and informed amateurs take great care in not only how they manage and store their LiPo batteries but check the integrity of their batteries after particularly rough landings or crashes. It is also a reason my many drone pilots use special fire retardant bags or containers like this one here. This is especially important for first responders or law enforcement that might be recovering a crashed drone for latter analysis.

    Indeed, Department 13 staff when assisting law enforcement in performing forensics on drones always insights on storing crashed or recovered drone’s batteries in protective and fire proof containers to prevent accidents and injury. It is also why we designed our Mesmer platform to maintain positive control of target drones to avoid creating hazardous situations that result from crashed drones.

    Video 2: Video of a drone that crashes and catches on fire.


    Guide to understanding LiPo Batteries:

    LiPo Battery Bags on Amazon:




  2. Department 13 is selected to compete in the MITRE Challenge!

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    UAS Challenge Finalists Selected

    Eight finalists have been selected to compete in the live flight competition scheduled for August 12-19, 2016, at the Marine Corps Base Quantico.
    The MITRE Corporation has named the eight finalists who will compete in its Countering Unauthorized Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) Challenge live flight competition in August. The live flight tests will determine the winners of a $100,000 prize package. The finalists are:
    • DroneTracker system from DeDrone, Inc., Kassel, Germany, and San Francisco
    • MESMER system from Department 13 International, Columbia, Maryland
    • ICARUS system from Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Maryland
    • KNOX system from MyDefence Communication ApS, Sundby, Denmark
    • Skywall 100 system from Open Works Engineering, Riding Mill, England
    • Dronebuster system from Radio Hill Technologies, Portland, Oregon
    • DroneBlocker system from TrustComs, Versailles, France
    • DroneRANGER system from Van Cleve & Associates, Alexandria, Virginia.  
  3. Thoughts from the CEO

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    Beyond Hype and Headlines.

    We saw it during the .com era --  any new business with .com in their name conveyed outrageous valuations and promises of changing the world.  How'd that work out?  We are seeing many of the same trends within the C-UAS market --  a market in the early innings of a hype cycle --   where yet again outrageous "solutions" are being offered as serious approaches to dealing with a very serious situation.  Case in point, earlier in the year, Dutch authorities discussed how trained eagles will provide force protection against drones.  Is this really a solution?

    I'm not opposed to creative thinking --  but the market is being pulled in many different ways and it will take time for those seeking to exploit the hype cycle for short term revenue capture to exit the market and provide space for serious solution discussion.  This is going to happen faster than the .com shake-up that I referenced earlier.  From my recent experience, those tasked with studying this problem to craft a strategy seem to be equally skeptical and are asking the tough questions.
    For example to discriminate between hype and a long-term solution, ask these questions of the vendor:
    ~ Do you have a plan to enable both commercial/civil uses or are you simply focused on military.
    ~ Describe your architecture for synthesizing, detection, mitigation and exploitation?
    ~ How do you view the threat vectors not as they are today but as they will be in 5 years?  How does your system adapt to these new threats?
    ~ Is there an upgrade path to ensure maximum value?
    ~ What is your position on FCC policy and how is your system designed to be deployable in a variety of locations and still be "legal"?
    These questions will push the vendor to reveal their true ambition and market approach.  There is no shortage of opportunistic vendors sell products that lack long-term endurance. As I see it --  deploying a solution today, will most likely require new investment in your C-UAS posture.  Unless you have a mandate to field a solution tomorrow --  take a breath, capture as much data about the drones you are dealing with (we can help you with through our new forensic service which I'll blog about later this week)