With the release of the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for the routine use of small unmanned aircraft, the commercial drone industry is finally ready for takeoff. As unmanned aerials systems (UAS) begin to flood the skies, however, there is no comprehensive tracking system to monitor them.
In response, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research arm, announced last week its Aerial Dragnet program for wide-area surveillance of drones operating below 1,000 feet in a large city.
According to DARPA, the focus of Aerial Dragnet is on theprotection of military troops in urban environments. However, the system could eventually be used to combat UAS-enabled terrorist threats in US cities.
“Commercial websites currently exist that display in real time the tracks of relatively high and fast aircraft—from small general aviation planes to large airliners—all overlaid on geographical maps as they fly around the country and the world,” said Jeff Krolik, DARPA program manager. “We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments.”
Systems currently available for UAS surveillance are not designed to track drones in urban settings. DARPA envisions a system with a non-line-of-sight tracking capability that can identify slow, low-flying drones. The system will operate using a network of “surveillance nodes” that can UAS even when they disappear from sight around corners or behind objects.
DARPA is currently seeking proposals for “a scalable network of sensors on aerial platforms performing threat-agnostic UAS detection, classification, and tracking by looking over and into complex terrain,” according to the Broad Agency Announcement solicitation.
The agency plans to host a Proposers Day on Sept. 26 for innovative new technologies for the Aerial Dragnet program.