An expensive recreational toy, solar surveillance or a real estate agent’s tool, drones are certainly familiar to most of us. If we have never used one, then we have certainly read all about them. Drones are one of the main technologies in precision agriculture, and can be used to increase crop yield, and maybe one day help to end world hunger. They’re used for the greater good in conflict. Recently, I covered the story about medical response and search drones as the latest technology being used to provide aid in the war against Ukraine. Drone detection technology, on the other hand, is used to detect unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

When Drone Detection Goes Wrong

However, drone detection is making the news again for the wrong reasons. Many companies supply drones for use on the battlefield, but more recently, DJI —one of the leading drone manufacturers in the world, and just one of the many tech companies that has found its products used for good on the battlefield — silently discontinued its drone-detection system, Aeroscope.

Additionally, the U.S. government placed the Shenzhen-based drone company on its blacklist in December 2021.  The reason: It’s alleged ties to the surveillance of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

These are times of general distrust — boldly underlined by the recent spotlight on the Chinese-operated high-altitude balloon that was spotted in North American airspace, including Alaska, western Canada and the contiguous United States.

It seems that it’s time to make drones, and drone detection, smarter.

The Advantages of Drones

But, can we do without drones themselves? In a word, no. The recent pandemic served to accelerate the use of drones and investment in them took a sharp rise. For the following reasons, drones are an essential piece of the kit.

  • During active emergency, medical, battlefield and disaster response situations, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used to reduce response times, improve situational awareness for first-responders and increase overall efficiency.
  • They can go where it’s impossible to just drive a truck in, and provide visual oversight far beyond the capabilities of the human eye.
  • Drones are an essential part of collecting scientific data.
  • Want something fast? Deliveries are more economical by drone — offering lower cost per mile and higher speed then vans in last-mile deliveries — and must be considered by mobility CIOs, reported Gartner.

But, we must acknowledge that drones are also used in espionage and data-gathering, and when unencrypted data can potentially be broadcasted to anyone and everyone there’s a serious issue to contend with. All you really need to detect a drone is a radar. Conspiracy theories and controversies abound. So what’s the solution to keep data safe and us safe from spying eyes?

The Future of Drone Detection is Digital Transformation

The time for drone detection digital transformation is now — so forget hardware-based solutions and fully move on over to the cloud.

There are several advantages to this, including the use of proprietary technology to:

  • Scale: Cloud-enabled systems can be scaled across many locations easier and faster.
  • Reporting: Hardware-free solutions provide instant prosecutor-ready reports.
  • Threat analysis: Critical data may be collected to enhance threat analysis and targets more easily identified.
  • Companies can sync data while the drone is still airborne.

The bottom line is that drones should become as intelligent as they need to be, and that’s achievable by swapping out hardware for software.

We leave the last word to Anil Nanduri, VP and GM of the Drone Group at Intel. He spoke with Chase Guttman, a renowned drone expert and drone cinematographer. “We are leveraging the ability of the cloud to learn faster, to iterate faster and to deploy,” said Nanduri. “The cloud allows that inference and learning so you can make drones smarter – it’s like an interactive cycle. Cloud becomes your learning step, and then edge becomes your evolution step.”