Anti-Drone Fence: Science or Snakeoil?

Remember when it was laser pointers? Well, now it’s drones.

[Thinkerer] sent us this link to what’s essentially a press release for a company called Sensofusion that makes a UAV detector and (they claim) smart jammer, and apparently one is being installed at Denver International airport.

We buy that the “Airfence” system will be able to detect known systems by signature, and possibly even take them over. We’ve seen two exploits of quadcopter radio protocols (one a timing attack and the other a controller ID spoof) that would allow them to do just that. But is that the problem? Don’t most of the major manufacturers fence off airports in software these days anyway? And are drones really the droids that you’re looking for?

They also make some claims about being able to detect and stop DIY copters, but we don’t see how. Imagine that your copter ran encrypted on 2.4 GHz. How is this different from any other WiFi signal? Or imagine that it sends and receives infrequent data in the congested pager bands? And short of jamming, we don’t see how they’re going to take down anything that they don’t already understand.

So, commenteers, how would you do it? Detect and even take over an arbitrary drone? Possible or snakeoil?

Easy UFO Lights on your Drone for Halloween

Sometimes it’s not so much what you put together, it’s how you use it. The folks at Adafruit have put up a project on how to dress up your drone with ‘UFO lights’ just in time for Halloween. The project is a ring of RGB LEDs and a small microcontroller to give any quadcopter a spinning ‘tractor beam light’ effect. A 3D printed fixture handles attachment. If you’re using a DJI Phantom 4 like they are, you can power everything directly from the drone using a short USB cable, which means hardly any wiring work at all, and no permanent changes of any kind to the aircraft. Otherwise, you’re on your own for providing power but that’s probably well within the capabilities of anyone who messes with add-ons to hobby aircraft.

One thing this project demonstrates is how far things have come with regards to accessibility of parts and tools. A 3D printed fixture, an off-the-shelf RGB LED ring, and a drop-in software library for a small microcontroller makes this an afternoon project. The video (embedded below) also demonstrates how some unfamiliar lights and some darkness goes a long way toward turning the otherwise familiar Phantom quadcopter into a literal Unidentified Flying Object.

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You Kids Get Those Drones out of my Airspace!

The PacTec Security Conference in Tokyo had something interesting show up. A countermeasure against drones that allows you to take control of any craft using the popular DSMx protocol. According to Ars Technica, DSMx transmitters and receivers exchange a key to prevent interference between adjacent systems. The key isn’t protected very well so by observing traffic and applying a little brute force, you can recover the key (which is set when the transmitter binds to the aircraft).

What’s more is a timing vulnerability allows the rogue transmitter to lock out the legitimate one. You can see a demonstration of the system, called Icarus, in the video below.

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Umbrella Drones — Jellyfish Of The Sky

Mount an umbrella to a drone and there you go, you have a flying umbrella. When [Alan Kwan] tried to do just that he found it wasn’t quite so simple. The result, once he’d worked it out though, is haunting. You get an uneasy feeling like you’re underwater watching jellyfish floating around you.

A grad student in MIT’s ACT (Art, Culture and Technology) program, [Alan’s] idea was to produce a synesthesia-like result in the viewer by having an inanimate object, an umbrella, appear as an animate object, a floating jellyfish. He first tried simply attaching the umbrella to an off-the-shelf drone. Since electronics occupy the center of the drone, the umbrella had to be mounted off-center. But he discovered that drones want most of their mass in the center and so that didn’t work. With the help of a classmate and input from peers and faculty he made a new drone with carbon fiber and metal parts that allowed him to mount the umbrella in the center. To further help with stability, the batteries were attached to the very bottom of the umbrella’s pole.

In addition to just making them fly, [Alan] also wanted the umbrella to gently undulate like a jellyfish, slowly opening and closing a little. He tried mounting servo motors inside the umbrella for the task. These turned out to be too heavy, but also unnecessary. Once flying outside at just the right propeller speed, the umbrellas undulated on their own. Watch them doing this in the video below accompanied by haunting music that makes you feel you’re watching a scene from Blade Runner.

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Party Drone Comes up Roses

[Nicomedia] (a team of two) built a payload for their drone with two distinct purposes: to allow it to drop things like rose petals and to fire off fireworks. Honestly, while it is a cool idea, we are a little worried that dropping things from a height might not be a good idea (although rose petals are probably OK) and lighting off fireworks from a drone didn’t seem like a good idea at all. If you want to reproduce this, you probably need to make sure either of these things are legal in your part of the planet.

In the video below, you can see the effect. A servo tied to the drone’s controller opens the box to release the payload. In this case, the team didn’t have a spare channel so they used a separate controller, but if you had a spare channel on the flight controller, that would probably be better.

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When LEGO Flies

Building your own drone is a common enough pursuit among Hackaday readers. There are quite a few LEGO enthusiasts around, too. A company named Flybrix wants to marry those two pursuits and is offering a kit that allows you to build your drone out of LEGO bricks.

The company isn’t affiliated with LEGO. The kits look like they have some pretty common motors and control hardware. There are a few custom pieces, but the real key appears to be a LEGO compatible mount for the motors. You can see a video about the kit, below.

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A Brief History Of ‘Drone’

In the early 1930s, Reginald Denny, an English actor living in Los Angeles, stumbled upon a young boy flying a rubber band-powered airplane. After attempting to help the boy by adjusting the rubber and control surfaces, the plane spun into the ground. Denny promised he would build another plane for the boy, and wrote to a New York model manufacturer for a kit. This first model airplane kit grew into his own hobby shop on Hollywood Boulevard, frequented by Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

The business blossomed into Radioplane Co. Inc., where Denny designed and built the first remote controlled military aircraft used by the United States. In 1944, Captain Ronald Reagan of the Army Air Forces’ Motion Picture unit wanted some film of these new flying targets and sent photographer David Conover to the Radioplane factory at the Van Nuys airport. There, Conover met Norma Jeane Dougherty and convinced her to go into modeling. She would later be known as Marilyn Monroe. The nexus of all American culture from 1930 to 1960 was a hobby shop that smelled of balsa sawdust and airplane glue. That hobby shop is now a 7-Eleven just off the 101 freeway.

Science historian James Burke had a TV wonderful show in the early 90s – Connections – where the previous paragraphs would be par for the course. Unfortunately, the timbre of public discourse has changed in the last twenty years and the worldwide revolution in communications allowing people to instantaneously exchange ideas has only led to people instantaneously exchanging opinions. The story of how the Dutch East India Company led to the rubber band led to Jimmy Stewart led to remote control led to Ronald Reagan led to Death of a Salesman has a modern fault: I’d have to use the word ‘drone’.

The word ‘propaganda’ only gained its negative connotation the late 1930s – it’s now ‘public relations’. The phrase ‘global warming’ doesn’t work with idiots in winter, so now it’s called ‘climate change’. Likewise, quadcopter pilots don’t want anyone to think their flying machine can rain hellfire missiles down on a neighborhood, so ‘drone’ is verboten. The preferred term is quadcopters, tricopters, multicopters, flying wings, fixed-wing remote-controlled vehicles, unmanned aerial systems, or toys.

I’m slightly annoyed by this and by the reminder I kindly get in my inbox every time I use the dreaded d-word. The etymology of the word ‘drone’ has nothing to do with spying, firing missiles into hospitals, or illegally killing American civilians. People like to argue, though, and I need something to point to when someone complains about my misuse of the word ‘drone’. Instead of an article on Hollywood starlets, the first remote control systems, and model aviation, you get an article on the etymology of a word. You have no one else to blame but yourself, Internet.

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