As drones are being taken into more and more environments some people do not like the idea that drones are able to fly freely, citing privacy and security reasons for greater control over drone flying locations. The majority of drone legislation and enforcement relies on the drone pilot doing the right thing. That is, understanding the most up-to-date drone regulations and rules for the jurisdiction that they are flying in, having up-to-date information about no fly zones, and using that information to fly responsibly and within the law. Should this not be enough, there is the potential to jam a drone signal which can cause the drone to simply return to its take-off location.
It is possible to jam a drone signal by using a disturbance signal in order to disrupt the communication between the drone and the remote control. Typically, these are powerful outputs that cause the drone to lose all communication. The drone will return to home which will identify the pilot.
Like most things in the technological space, this is a little bit of an arms race between drone manufacturers, legislators, law enforcement and hobby drone flyers. It is not common for people to use drone jammers but there are a number of real-world applications where jamming a drone signal becomes a matter of life and death. For example, around an airport.
In this article, we are going to answer the question: is it possible to jam a drone signal? And also delve deep into the science and reasons why people may want to jam a drone signal.
Let’s start with the basics and find out what a drone jammer is.
What is a drone Jammer?
A drone jammer is a piece of technology which sends a disturbance signal to interfere with the normal signal the drone is receiving from the remote controller (operated by the drone pilot). These signals are sent at high outputs in order to cause interference in order to make the drone lose all ability to communicate via radio signals with the remote control.
A drone that is not able to communicate sufficiently with the remote control will often simply return to the take-off location through an advanced technology called “return to home” found in most consumer grade GPS drones. By following the drone back to its take-off location, law enforcement are also able to identify the drone pilot.
It is very hard to defend against a jamming signal. In order to beat a drone jammer signal you must send an output which is much higher than that of the jammer which is very difficult for the majority of consumer electronics to achieve.
When would someone use a drone jammer?
There are plenty of activities where using a drone becomes a very useful tool. This includes aerial photography, disaster monitoring, agriculture, industrial inspection, retail, and much more.
For example airports and crowded urban areas such as football stadiums need to be on the lookout for drones which may be carrying explosive devices or biological agents.
Drones can also be used for spy missions, where they can capture images and topographical data about sensitive areas. Moreover, drones can also be used for smuggling illicit materials over borders or into and out of prisons – there are so many ways that a drone can be used for malicious intent.
Anyone who wants to protect themselves or the information against drone attacks could use a drone jammer. Reliable drone detection is very difficult and demanding task. The fight against hostile drones consists of two phases. Drone detection and drone jamming.
A drone jammer protects land, property, information, and privacy by making the drone inoperable by its pilot.
How do drone jammers work?
As mentioned above, drone jammers work by sending out a much more powerful signal than the remote controller. In Europe, the following radio bands are allowed for remote controls: 27 MHz, 35 MHz, 40 MHz, 433 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
There are two different types of remote controls, analogue – using a pulse width modulation, and digital – using digital modulation techniques. The digital modulation techniques are more familiar and give rise to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands which would be familiar to anyone operating a DJI drone. My DJI Mavic air can operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz and I have found that in crowded city locations a 5 GHz signal is more effective at connecting with the drone.
Besides the control commands you are also able to jam other radio signals such as flight data and status to the remote controller, the video link for sending images to the remote controller, and the global positioning system which is required for the drone to auto stabilise and hover.
The aim of jamming is to distort the signal to a level where the receiver is completely unable to detect it or at least achieve some parts of the system losing their integrity resulting in the total or partial denial of service between the drone and the controller.
If you jam a drones GPS system it will most likely crash.
To prevent a drone from entering a certain area you can use high energy lasers, electromagnetic pulse guns, and radiofrequency jammers. There are several products available on the market which detect and provide countermeasures but they are designed primarily for military use and they come at a relatively high price point.
There are a variety of solutions which can look like a gun, a portable suitcase, a customised vehicle, and many other forms.
A drone jammer is able to create a virtual barrier around the jammer hardware. If this signal is directed into one direction the jamming range is greater. All range jamming is more reliable because it does not depend on the successful location of the drone and can simply create an exclusion zone. In other words, you don’t have to relocate and direct the signal towards the drone you want to jam.
Can you protect against drone jammers?
If you are a drone pilot there are a number of ways that you can protect your drone against jamming signals.
A scientific paper published in 2016 highlights a technique called hardware sandboxing. This technique was inspired by the concept of software sandboxing which targets potentially malicious activity in hardware Internet providers and components.
They created a virtual receiver signal generator to isolate the potentially jammed receiver from the rest of the system which controls the drone. This was effective in detecting and reacting to drone jamming attacks.
Are drone jammers legal?
There are plenty of laws and regulations which can overlap with the drone jamming technologyand plenty of communication laws which cover the disruption of communication frequencies open to the public:
“No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this chapter or operated by the United States Government.”— 47 U.S. Code § 333 – Willful or malicious interference
This means that the person operating the jammer will have to be licensed and authorised by the federal government.
If you were to use a drone jammer on a drone you run the risk of causing the drone to fall out of the sky and therefore cause property damage and personal injury. This could open up the opportunity for people to sue you based on the damage that you are able to cause using a drone jammer.
Who would want to use a drone jammer?
There are a range of use cases for who may want to use a drone jammer. This includes security personnel, military personnel, homeowners, private property owners, and wildlife or park rangers.
Securing the privacy and property of the government or private entities is the responsibility of a number of security forces. For example, security officers may be brought in to protect a certain event, private property, or other public gathering in order to protect the safety of the public.
Security personnel could use a drone jammer to take down any drones which are seen to be flying around the vicinity.
The military use case for a drone jammer is the most compelling. Drones can be used to carry explosives, sensitive information, and other harmful agents. This means that the ability to reproducibly jam a drone signal becomes a matter of life and death.
The military uses a portable jammer system which is fitted to a vehicle. The drone is able to take down consumer level drones such as the DJI Phantom or DJI Mavic air but also is able to defend against much larger drones which are used for military purposes.
The ability to jam a variety of systems means that you can keep up with the enemy’s adoption of new technologies. This includes multirotor and fixed wing drone systems.
Homeowners/ Private property owners
Maybe you have a particularly pesky drone pilot in your local area. Some drone owners may want to set up a perimeter around their house which stops drone pilots from flying over their house.
Homeowners and private property owners have the ability to set up a drone jammer in the centre of their property which could extend to the parameters of their property.
Drone jammers are particularly effective for GPS signals and is effective from up to 400 m away. You can use a 30° cone to direct the jamming signal which will extend its range and allow it to take down fast-moving fixed wing drones.
Drone jamming solutions can also be used by wildlife and park rangers who are looking to protect sanctuary zones and national parks. Recently, I was in Innes national park and I notice that there was a no drone flying sign.
Because I am a conscientious drone pilot I did not take off in the National Park at all. However, while I was there I noticed a number of drones flying around trying to capture some amazing shots of the spectacular landscape.
It is my opinion that if the park rangers were able to use drone jamming solutions they would be able to hit drones from a long distance away and deter people who feel like they want to get that quick shot despite the regulations for bidding drone flights in the area.
Is there an app to detect drones?
If you want to take down a drone firstly, you need to be able to know where it is and to be able to detect it.
There are a number of ways that you can detect a drone including:
- radar detection – conventionally radars are used in military applications as well as aviation. It is not easy to detect a small drone with Radar especially when they are flying low and travelling slowly. Their movements and size make them similar to how birds move so they are not easy to differentiate.
- Radiofrequency detection – there is a continuous two-way data transmission between a drone and the pilot on the ground. The data is sent in various frequency bands which means that there is a lot of opportunity to detect the drone. One of the benefits is that there is no need for signal sending and it can be detected passively.
- Acoustic detection – there are special microphones which are able to detect the sound and specific acoustic signature of multi-propeller vehicles and motors.
- Optical detection – digital cameras and surveillance cameras are able to detect the drone as long as they have good quality optical zoom and a high-resolution.
- Thermal detection – like optical detection this relies on a good resolution but there advantage over optical detection is that they are able to work at night.
Recently, there is an app called dronewatcher which is able to detect small unmanned aerial vehicles.
This app turns your android device into a detector of drones and is able to alert you and track their path. The app detects most commercially available consumer and pro-Sumer drones and records the data including the drone type and ID which can be used to document evidence to be used by local law enforcement.
In this article, we have answered the question: is it possible to jam a drone signal? Quite simply, yes it is possible to show a drone signal by attacking any of the radio frequencies which the drone is using. This includes the control signals, the video transmission and the GPS (most effective).
Even though you can purchase drone jamming products they are prohibitively expensive and often reserved for security agencies and the military.
The likelihood of you coming across a drone jammer in the wild is low. Drone jammers are heavily regulated and pose a small amount of risk to the average hobby drone flyer.
As long as you are flying within the local regulations and limits you have nothing to worry about. Unless you are flying near military bases or other highly protective government sites you are unlikely to have a jammer attack your drone.