Cheap GPS jammers pose a major threat to drones

Jammers that can be bought for as little as $ 50 threaten commercial drones, but options exist.

With the rotors buzzing and the airframes racing through the air, drones can be very dangerous if flights don’t go as planned. Much has been gnawed about the FAA’s measured approach to implementing commercial drone guidelines, but the fact is there are real dangers, even from bad actors using inexpensive GPS jammer.

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GPS signal jamming technology is evolving, decreasing in size and cost. These days jammers can be bought online for as little as $ 50. Jamming has long been a threat to military assets and is becoming a commercial problem today as commercial drone shipments become a reality and attacks become ubiquitous around the world. This threat now affects trade, law enforcement, and defense drones on critical missions.

During a choreographed light show in Hong Kong in 2018, 46 drones fell from the sky due to a jamming device. The resulting property damage and loss of hardware is estimated to cost an estimated HK $ 1 million. Almost all drones have security protocols that can be used to send them home or to a safe landing site in the event of a disruption. However, these functions were found to be ineffective at the Hong Kong show.

“These are professional-grade drones already built with technology that will guide them back to the launch site,” Anthony Lau Chun-hon, director of the events committee, told the South China Morning Post. “But the signals were so strong that many of them just fell out of thin air.”

Drones and their services are decidedly dependent on GPS signals. Although the drone may have backup methods (INS / OPS), GPS references are still required for positioning, navigation and stabilization. GPS attacks are therefore the easiest way to shut down a drone and potentially cause harm to life and property.

The good news is that solutions for drones are arriving with commercial quality and coming straight from the defense sector. One comes from a company called infiniDome, which makes a device called a GPSdome that is built into a drone’s GNSS receivers and uses a unique interference filter system that combines the patterns of two omnidirectional antennas. GPSdome analyzes the interference signal in real time and feeds its properties into infiniDome’s proprietary algorithm to filter and reject attacking RF interference, so that the UAS continues to rely on GPS signals during a jamming attack. If an interference signal is detected, the GPSdome notifies the operator of possible signal interference.

Easy Aerial, a leading provider of autonomous, drone-based surveillance solutions for commercial, government and defense applications, recently added GPSdome to its range of autonomous unmanned aerial systems for military use.

“We chose GPSdome because it was a proven solution that was a perfect fit for the various missions our customers routinely fly in some of the most inhospitable and hostile environments in the world,” said Ido Gur, Co-Founder and CEO of Easy Aerial. “While our systems have multiple redundancies on board, GPS signals for maintaining position, navigation and timing accuracy are critical to ensure uninterrupted operation.”

This type of lightweight, small form factor, low power shielding technology is a critical step towards widespread adoption of commercial drones. Other companies like Sepentrio also take GPS interference in drone applications with integrated sensor solutions seriously.

It is certain that the problem of GPS interference and spoofing will receive more attention in the coming days. Fortunately, developers seem to be beginning to see tools that they can use to counter the growing threat.

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