How Can You Tell If a Drone Is Nearby? Detect drones with drone detection technology. 

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Drones are becoming increasingly sophisticated and prevalent. As drones are being used for surveillance, it is essential to understand how you can detect their presence. How can you tell if a drone is nearby?

Drones can be detected by using radio counter-surveillance systems, mobile apps, and anti-drone radar detectors. The best method of detecting drones nearby is a multilayer drone-detecting system. Although, each method has its pros and cons in terms of cost, convenience, and effectiveness.

The methods for detecting drones involve identifying radio signals, wifi, or other drone emissions using radio counter-surveillance systems, mobile apps, and radar detectors. The ideal method for a user will depend on factors like cost, convenience, and necessary range or coverage. Read on to discover the best way to see if a drone is nearby.

How Can You Detect/Spot a Drone? 

Drones have advanced surveillance capabilities, but there are ways to detect when a drone is observing you. You can recognize and counter unwanted drone surveillance by being aware of the technologies available to identify drones.

Methods for detecting drones include:

  • Radio Surveillance
  • Mobile Apps
  • Radar Detectors
  • Thermal Cameras

While each one has its benefits, they also have potential drawbacks. It is important to analyze the pros and cons of each to determine which method will work best for you.

Radio Counter Surveillance Systems

Radio counter-surveillance systems detect and decode radio signals from drones, allowing you to trace the signals back to the drone’s location. The system can pinpoint the drone’s position by mapping the radio signal patterns.

Pros and cons of Radio Frequency to track drone

Can detect and identify common drones that emit radio signals
Can pinpoint the location of drones and their operators
Mobile systems allow tracking drones back to their source In some cases, systems can detect drones up to 100 miles away with ideal conditions
No license is required to purchase and install the systems
May have limited range, especially in rugged terrain or with physical obstacles
Won’t detect autonomous drones that don’t emit radio signals
Less effective in areas with a mix of many radio frequencies
Drone locating and tracking features may not always work reliably
Can’t visually identify drones or determine drone payload

Radio frequency-based drone detection systems have the pros of identifying and locating common drones that emit radio signals, but the cons include potential limitations in range and effectiveness, inability to detect non-radio drones, and lack of visual identification.

Mobile Apps

You can use apps like DroneWatcher on a smartphone or tablet. They use radio signals and sensors to detect nearby drones. The apps identify drones in the vicinity, though their range may be limited.

Pros and cons of mobile apps to track drones

Deters drone threats by tracking drones
Allows taking action to remove detected drones
Can protect events by detecting unwanted drones
Prevents drone-enabled data breaches and surveillance
May have false positives that detect objects other than drones
Typically has a limited range for detection
Requires an active internet connection
Some apps can be expensive to use  

Drone detection apps provide the benefits of deterring drones and allowing response to detections. However, they can be limited by potential false positives, limited ranges, and connectivity requirements. The ideal use of these apps depends on the necessary range and reliability for a given application.


Radar and radio frequency (rf) detection is another excellent way to see if there is a drone nearby. There are particular radar detectors called anti-drone radar detectors that identify radiofrequency (radio waves) and wifi signals from drones and alert you that there is a drone around. They can detect drones but may also be limited in range.


The benefits and drawbacks of radar systems

Offers long-range, constant detection and tracking
Locations detected are usually very accurate
Can handle multiple targets at once
Can detect autonomous drones without radio signals
Visual conditions do not limit use  
Can have difficulty differentiating drones from birds or other objects
Requires a transmission license
Frequency checks are needed to avoid interference  

Radar-based drone detection systems have the significant pros of long-range, continuous detection and accurate location tracking, including autonomous drones. However, they can face challenges distinguishing drones from other objects, requiring proper licensing and frequency management.

Radar is a powerful method but may be limited without visual verification or identification of detected objects.

Thermal Cameras

Thermal cameras can also discover drones in the near vicinity. These cameras can detect drones by identifying the heat signature of drones using infrared thermal imaging. Zooming in on the potential drone using a thermal camera may not be possible but the contrast created by the camera is a great way to detect it. 

Since drones generate heat from motors and electronics, thermal cameras can pick up on this heat signature to detect and locate drones.

The pros and cons of a thermal camera for detecting drones

Can visually identify and verify drones
Can determine drone payload and components
Records video/images that can provide evidence
More prone to false alarms
Limited effectiveness in low visibility conditions like darkness, fog, etc.
Typically limited range

Thermal/visual camera systems allow visual identification and evidence collection for drone detection. However, their range is more limited than radio or radar, and they can be prone to false alarms and impaired by poor visibility.

This technique works well if you are trying to spot a drone at night. The cold air really helps the heat stand out.

What is the Best Way to Tell If A Drone Is Nearby? How to spot a drone at night

There is no one specific way that best tells if a drone is nearby or that a drone is watching you. However, a layered drone detection solution that combines multiple methods is optimal. Drone detection technology is coming on in leaps and bounds and can be used to detect a number of consumer drones. 

The best way to create a layered drone detection solution is to use:

  • Radio frequency analysis
  • Radar
  • Thermal/visual cameras

You can develop a comprehensive drone detection system by partnering thermal cameras with radar and radio signal detectors – this makes it easy to see the drone. Thermal cameras provide an additional layer of detection to identify drones that may evade radio- and radar-based systems. eg. drones flying autonomously. 

Radiofrequency analysis can detect and identify common drones but may have a limited range and won’t detect autonomous drones without radio signals being emitted from the controller eg. a commercial drone like DJI Mavic Air 2. 

Radar offers long-range detection and tracking but can have issues differentiating between drones and birds and smaller drones may allude these sorts of detection methods. 

Thermal/visual cameras provide visual identification and evidence but can have false alarms and trouble with low visibility.

By combining these methods, the strengths can offset the weaknesses. Radiofrequency and radar can detect potential drones. Then the cameras can verify and provide visual evidence.

You may overcome the range limitations of radio frequency analysis by using radar’s extended range. The camera’s visual feed can help verify radar detections and determine whether an object is a drone.

A layered multi-method approach is optimal for detecting drones and their potential threats.

What Are the Best Apps That Detect Drone Spying? Drone detection.

While mobile apps have drawbacks for detecting drones, they are the cheapest option. Plus, You can use several apps to detect the presence of a drone.

Some popular drone tracking apps are:

  • Drone Watcher app
  • AirMap
  • Aerial Armor

DroneWatcher alerts users if a drone is nearby. It also provides the location and identification when possible by using radio, wifi, and Bluetooth signals. This makes any consumer drone easy to spot and can be handy if you are using it to find a drone watching you at night. 

AirMap provides airspace data and services to manage drone flights. It allows for creating flights, filing notices, and managing aircraft. Plus, it shows advisories and weather data.

Aerial Armor is a drone detection company that provides security systems and services. Their drone detection systems use multiple sensors, including radio frequency, radar, and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, to monitor airspace and detect potential drone threats.

Aerial Armor is for security professionals. They integrate these sensors into a layered detection solution that alerts users to drones entering monitored areas. This advanced multi-method drone detection system is best for detecting drones through a mobile app.

Final Thoughts

There are several ways to see nearby drones, including radio, radar, thermal cameras, and mobile apps. However, the most effective way to tell if a drone is in the vicinity is to use a layered solution combining multiple methods. However, each method has pros and cons, and none are foolproof.

So consider your budget, and from there, you can determine what you are willing to do to see if a drone is near flying near you. 

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a Drone pilot, Writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV (ABC Documentary) and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones.