If you love flying drones, here is one question for you – can drones be hacked? While you might love flying your favourite drone, what if someone could control it without your permission? This possibility could mean that drones could be misused easily. So, can drones be hacked?
Aerospace engineering experts have studied and revealed that not much effort is needed to hijack a drone over the United States airspace and misuse to commit any kind of terrorism act or crime.
It has been proven that a drone costing more than $80,000 could be commandeered with the help of a Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and used for any purpose. Using unencrypted GPS information for navigating purposes, drones are extremely vulnerable to hacking and these include the drones used by most police agencies as well.
How is a drone hacked?
Being a type of malware, Maldrone is aimed specifically at UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles which make use of Internet connections and hacks into drone. Drones are flying computers and are extremely susceptible to the hacking which happens in a smartphone or laptop. The technology for drone hacking can swipe the data collected by the machine previously or control it physically.
If the hacker is able to fake a GPS signal well, then he can convince an UAV into tracking the fake signal instead of the real one allowing him to control the vehicle completely from miles away.
If criminals can hack a military drone then it can obviously become quite dangerous but what will happen if hackers can also control civilian flying robots? Many drones are already being experimented with in sectors such as rescue and search organizations, crop monitoring, surveillance by police authorities and much more and is expected to be used by online retailers and postal services too.
Experts suggest that the Federal Aviation Administration should collaborate with United State’s Homeland Security Department to regulate drones. In the aviation sector, drones are considered to be a growth industry and many new companies are trying to enter this sector. If the hurdles that are being experienced in this sector can be taken care of, then more and more drones will be taken on missions to watch over humans. However, it is being highly speculated as to what kind of reconnaissance drones will be able to do and how they will affect civil liberties as this remains a major issue for discussion still.
Negative aspect of a drone
Several privacy advocates have started arguing that this will allow any individual to purchase a drone and spy on people right in their homes and backyards. This is why it is necessary to install such procedures that drone operators are unable to use the drone for personal purposes which they have not been licensed for. If this is not achieved soon, the American public is sure to be outraged and might come up with a negative reaction towards drones very soon.
Should you worry?
While the information might seem a bit frightful, do not worry. No drones have been hacked till now, and it is only the most complex drones that could be subjected to it. For all purposes, you do not have to worry about your drone being hacked, as normal drones cannot be.
Whether you are a civil quadcopter operator or merely a hobbyist, it important that you do not get into the wrong side of the law. This is because, most countries, led by the UK and US are moving fast to regulate the use of multirotors, in order to reduce cases of mischief like terrorism, hence safeguarding the rights of the citizens. The laws regulating the use of these crafts has been dubbed, The Drone code. With these laws, it means that quadcopters are legal, but under certain operations and restrictions.
The US ratified some legislations that target the use of multirotors in the late 2015. Amending of The Drone code was mainly because of the increased use of quadcopters in restricted airspaces like airports and the inability to distinguish the various degrees of autopilot assistance, hence attracting users with no experience in practical flying.
It is for these reason that governments like US, UK and Australia decided to address the legality on the use of quadcopters formally.
Different Types of Unmanned Craft Operations
Public Operations– This is where the craft is used for the government purpose. For example, the military and police are allowed to use these crafts in surveillance, spying on enemies’ territories in order to carry out an attack or monitoring the country’s airspace.
Civil Operations– This is where the quadcopters are used for commercial purposes. A case example is the Domicopter that delivers Domino’s pizza orders to customers’ doorsteps. In addition, news agencies are using quadcopters to cover live events and happening, hence promoting excellent journalism through relaying the correct information to the public.
Model Aircraft– This quadcopters are used for recreational purposes only. However, hobbyist are the greatest causalities of The Drone code, since most of them are likely to be mischievous when using these unmanned aircrafts.
Categories of Quadcopter Pilots
First Person Video– This is where a camera is attached to the quadcopter, where a video is taken and appears as a pilot is inside the craft, but in real sense, the pilot is only controlling the craft remotely.
Visual Line of Sight– This is literally keeping the quadcopter within your sight all the time. In order to fly the quadcopter effectively, the pilot should only fly the quadcopter in areas with no obstructions like tall trees and buildings and at a certain altitude. If this is contravened, you are likely to endanger the live of humans and property in the long run.
Guidelines Shaping the Use of Quadcopters
Aviation authorities in the US have and are crafting new rules to restrict the misuse of these multirotors in order to protect everybody’s interest. They include;
Keep the craft less than 400 feet above the ground level and stay clear of obstacles
Keep the craft within a visual range at all times, restricting the craft to a five mile radius.
Keep clear controlled airspaces for example airports or military barracks
Do not fly over populated areas like beaches, stadiums where a match is on or private homes without permission from relevant authorities.
The 21th century has seen the emerging of unmanned aircrafts that have taken over the air space. Slowly but steadily, it has now become a common phenomenon for the military, meteorologists, companies and hobbyists to fly them; and we can always spot them at times from a distance. These crafts are now being used to launch attacks on enemies’ territories, deliver products to customers’ doorsteps while also used as toys for hobbyists. However, there has been public outcries in some countries where drones have been used to spy on various different activities done in public, thus, undermining their citizens’ privacy. Despite all this, there is the question of when did drones become popular?
History of Drones
Many military forces in different parts of the world have been in the forefront in using drone attacks on enemies’ territories. The drone pilots, dubbed “cubicle warriors” are being recruited at a faster rate than the traditional jet pilots; who always risk their lives in combat. Early use of drones can be traced back to World War II, where unmanned jets were used in the Vietnam War. The Israeli Air Force has been accredited with winning many battles with enemies just by using electronic decoys, jammers and real time video reconnaissance.
In 1998, the US came up with Endurance Unmanned Crafts, which could stay up in the air for long. A notable achievement of these EUC, came when a craft named Laima, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 26 hours. Civilian drones have also captured the attention of many aviation authorities in different countries. For example, the US estimates that by 2020, their will have more than 15,000 drones manning its airspace.
So Why Are Drones Popular?
1. Appealing Size and Portability
Unmanned craft technology has proven to be capable of capturing vital information from diverse angles; for example in filming movies or capturing live events. It is said that they may change the future of journalism in the near future.
2. Fall in Cost of Technology
Amazon and Dixons have attributed the growth of drone sales to their fairly low prices. Drones range from as low as £30 to £30000GBP depending on their intended use, battery power and accessories attached to them, for example a camera.
3. Safe and Quick in Capturing Live Events
Most news broadcasting stations are using drones to capture the latest live events as they happen. It is way cheaper to use a drone in capturing a forest fire, than risking the life of a photo journalist, while also cut on costs that come with hiring a helicopter that charges on hourly basis.
Regulations by the Aviation Authority
The popularity of these crafts have brought an outcry from the public since hobbyists and terrorist tend to use them for ill purposes, thus, forcing aviation authorities to impose regulations on the use of drones. There have been successful prosecutions over the misuse of drones in different countries. However, for developed economies like the UK, aviation regulators and civil stakeholders have been brought together in order to create an understanding on how the drones can be used to benefit everybody, hence reducing incidences of terrorism and misuse of drones.
Quadcopters are increasingly becoming popular since they are cool and fun to operate in order to make them fly. In addition, constant improvements are being made on a daily basis making them reliable machines for day to day use.
However, their use depends on their size hence serving different needs in the long run. Some of the interesting applications of a multirotor include;
1. Aviation Research
Multirotors are useful crafts in university settings since researchers use them to understand subjects like flight control theory and while performing complex flying techniques that contribute to improvement of day to day air navigation.
2. Military/ Law Enforcement
Quadcopters have been used by law enforcement agencies in surveillance of criminal activities hence busting out drug syndicates. Recently, Aeryon Labs, a Canadian lab created a quadcopter that helped in spying drug trafficking activities in Central America.
3. Search and Rescue Missions
Quadcopters are becoming popular as the go-to gadgets for search and rescue missions. When equipped with cameras, they give live pictures of the target area. In addition, they can be fitted with infra-red rays, to trace victims trapped under debris.
4. Deliver Online Shopping Orders
Amazon Prime Air intends to use quadcopters to deliver goods to the customer’s doorstep, confirms TechCrunch. However, Domicopter, Domino’s pizza delivery quadcopter, delivers pizza within a four mile radius in less than 10 minutes.
5. Transport People
Just as they can transport goods, they still can carry people around. E-volo, a German firm designed and tested a 16 propeller Volocopter that can fly with a pilot inside, for 20 minutes. However, improvements on battery technology, will see it carry more people and fly for long, in the future.
Quadcopters are being used in mining operation in different parts of the world. They have been deployed to handle jobs that are dangerous to humans. In addition, they have been used to inspect equipment, pitfall and entrances to the mining caves.
7. New and Sports
They are used to offer better views of field events unlike rail cameras since they follow athletes and film them. Quadcopters are also been sent to cover the latest news as they happen, for example, covering traffic jams as they are able to get closer to action and maneuver more quickly unlike humans.
8. Surveying and Construction
Quadcopters are used to provide details of the construction status from an aerial view, in the 3D modeling. It is also being used to monitor employees at a construction site, for example when making bridges, hence offer quality and efficient inspections.
9. Play Reality Games
Pilots have been known to play augmented reality games with these crafts in order to get a real perspective of the world. A good example of these games is Mission Helicopter, where a pilot is supposed to obstacles from their way and avoid blowing up their crafts.
The Future of Quadcopters
Solving problems relating to aerodynamics and gravity.
Capturing vital information relating to wildlife habitats hence promoting environmental conservation.
Delivery of medicine to patients in areas with adverse weather conditions.
It’s a great idea to make drones deliver packages. You do not have to worry about the delivery guy when you order online, and you could have the drone delivering right to your doorstep. However, there still remains many practical and logistical difficulties when trying to make drones deliver packages.
How Popular Is This Going to Be?
Big giants like Amazon are already supporting the idea of and providing evidence of the success of drones making delivery of packages. The debate, however, still on with people still skeptical about the whole process.
However, it does seem a lot likely that drones will replace many of the delivery guys in the near future. And recent studies and experiments point to the phenomenon – just like that of the driverless cars that will rule the roads soon.
How is it possible?
The first successful drone delivery was made in one of the States in US, and the development has made things more interesting. In March last year, a drone successfully delivered a package in one of the homes in Nevada.
It was the first autonomous delivery that has been made. For the delivery, a GPS system was established to create the route and there were supporting staff who observed the whole view. There did not arise any need for anyone to interfere and the drone went on to make a successful delivery.
Is it safe?
There is still a question regarding the use of unmanned flying objects. There have been no decisions made and the Government has not allowed the use of independent flying objects for delivery.
For drones to deliver packages, there has to be a lot of policy changes to bring something like this into action. The Federal Aviation Authority is working on the regulation that will govern the flying objects independently. There is also a strict regulation which states that if there will be drones covering the sky, they better be using different frequencies. It should be kept in mind that the technology should not compromise on safety. The drones need to use different frequencies so that they are not hijacked or misused.
What could be the problems?
Makers and technical heads who are keen on making it work have to think on a lot of things. The unmanned Drone as the delivery machine works solely on GPS.
So, what does the drone do when the routes are not updated? There is also a possibility that the connection is lost or the GPS systems unable to mark its way. In such cases, it will become a little difficult to find the locations and make a successful delivery to desired address.
A highly developed algorithm and systems would have to be introduced to make sure no major mishaps happen. With the use of camera this becomes a convenient job but then this does not make it an independent machine. The drones also are not capable yet of flying long distances, another major hurdle that researchers are working on now.
Despite the hiccups, the possibility of flying objects making delivery cannot be shooed away. It is likely that they will soon see the light of the day.
Drones tend to emit a buzz that may pose a challenge when groups of delivery drones start operating in urban airspace. NASA’s GL-10 project has produced a solution to this problem of buzz sound in drones. The team developed the GL-10, which is the newest in a sequence of drone archetypes from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The archetype comes equipped with ten different engines meant to reduce drone’s trademark buzz sound, thus making the drone a little quieter. You would think that more propellers would make a drone buzz more, but NASA’s working principle is that numerous small propellers are quieter than a few large ones. Each motor on the drone operates at a faintly altered speed, which prevents the faint buzz sound combining into one loud buzz sound. The body of the drone is made from carbon fiber and has a wingspan of 3 meters.
More Engines Less Buzz Sound
The large number of engines, eight on the wings and another two on the tail, generate effective electric propulsion, but is also a solution to the problem of drone noise or buzz sound—numerous small motors produce less buzz sound than a few large ones.
The GL-10, which stands for ‘greased lightning’ can take off vertically. The employed silencing technology means that the drone is inaudible when flying more than 30 meters overhead.
Drones with less buzz sound are needed in situations like package delivery applications, where they need to be both quiet and safe. The employed technology that contributes to less buzz sound is called distributed electric propulsion. The drone also boasts innovative LEAP (Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller) technology, which stops the buzz sound from the motors coalescing into one loud buzz sound.
Each Propeller or Motor Engine Can Be Operated At Slightly Different RPM
With the many propellers or motor engines, each is designed to be operated at slightly different revolutions per minute (RPM). The drone features a whole group of lesser harmonics and can be spread across the frequencies. This concept is called frequency spectrum spreading and is only possible because of the many propellers or motor engines and a high precision control of them. Since the GL-10 is inaudible and can take off vertically, it is ideal for urban parcel courier application. (See: How Do Quadcopters Work?)
Drones with Less Buzz for Package Delivery
Companies like Amazon and Google have certainly borrowed from this concept for their package delivery systems. Amazon is employing quieter octocopters that carry products weighing under five pounds to users, within 30 minutes of an order being placed. The drones are effective, quieter and safe being used as delivery vehicles. Google has held extensive tests of its own for drones to be used as delivery vehicles. In one successful test, Google flew cattle vaccines, dog treats, chocolate bars, water and radios to people in remote areas in Australia.
This drone technology would no doubt be borrowed by the military too, to be used in larger, manned aircraft which would match the size of the US Army’s missile-carrying Predator drones. This would help in providing a solution to the noise of the Predator and Reaper drones that patrol US war military zones, which is audible on the ground leading locals to realize drones are in the area.
Quieter Drones for Wildlife Monitoring
Quieter drones could be used to monitor wildlife without frightening them off, since some birds are sensitive to the buzz sound, and elephants flee from drones maybe because they perceive the buzz sound as that of a swarm of bees.
A quadcopter is a multirotor craft that is lifted and propelled using four rotors. The propellers of a quadrotor are vertically oriented and each of them works in varying speeds, giving the aerial vehicle some speed, desired thrust and turning force, required in moving the quadcopter on the air. Typically, the quadcopter has the following configurations; two rotors turning clockwise and the other two turning counter clockwise, helping the quadrotor respond to controls of its pilot when flying.
In order to understand how a quadcopter works, let’s examine its vital components and their uses;
Its frame is most important part of the quadrotor. It’s on it that the motors, power cells and propellers among other parts are mounted on. It needs to be strong and stable.
Two motors rotate on a clock wise and the other two counter clockwise. They are usually connected to the electronic speed controller in order spin as per the requirements of the controls.
Electronic Speed Controller has three wires; current supply, motor wire and controller wire. It links the motors with the batteries, while also linking the quadrotor to the transmitter.
Transmitter and Receiver which is a four channel transmitter to help in controlling the multicopter to different heights.
Control board acts as the heart of the multicopter as its responsible for controlling each motor independently hence providing the correct balance in the long run.
Propellers, ensure that the multicopter does not spin around, resulting to a loss in balance hence crashing.
Flying a Multicopter
The multicopter uses its propellers to rise up in the air, thanks to the thrust created giving its upward lift. The four motors are therefore designed to rotate in the following directions; CW, CCW, CW, CCW. This enables the cancelling out of a motors intention to cause a spin of the craft when on air, cementing Newton’s Third Law of Motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What is unique about multicopter is their vertical takeoff and landing. In order to attain this, the pilot needs to control the pitch, yaw and roll the quadcopter in variable thrusts on each motor.
To steer the multirotor correctly, its important that one understands how different speeds in the motor affect a lift from the propeller, a turn in any directional axes and how to attain or lose a certain altitude.
Roll and Pitch– This is basically tilting the multirotor. A tilt is achieved by increasing the rotation speeds of two motors, causing more lift on one side of the multirotor. Through this, a right turn or left is easily achieved. When using the craft to capture pictures, for example, the multirotor ought to pitch down. This is done by making the two motors on the craft’s back spin faster, creating tilt and the craft can rotate about the pitch axis clockwise.
The yaw is a bit confusing to many, since it is rotating the propellers in clockwise and counter clockwise directions. However, one opposite pair of the motors has to be slowed down, hence balancing the craft on the air.
Altitude Control– A balance of different forces have to be in use when hovering the craft in the air. Hovering requires the controller to counter the gravitational pull on the craft with lift produced by the motors. In order to take off or land, the pilot needs to disrupt the craft’s balance in the following ways;
To gain altitude, the pilot must counter the gravitational pull by making the props rotate faster and with a greater force.
Descending means that the pilot reduces the rotors speed hence reducing their rotation force letting the force of gravity take its place in bringing the craft to the ground.
Quadcopters are great toys. However, the technological world is dynamic and improvements are being made on this craft, creating more excitement in understanding how they work and their potential benefits.
All over the world, reports of the dangers posed by drones have circulated in the media. The public, security enforcers and aircraft crews that are calling for the regulation of use of small unmanned crafts in the airspace. There is a thin line in distinguishing which crafts have been registered for commercial purposes and those used by hobbyist in many countries. However, we cannot fully forget the positive contributions made by these crafts, like saving human lives, quick delivery of products to customers and covering of live events as they happen among other contributions. This therefore begs the question; Are drones dangerous?
Drones Are Not Dangerous
The aviation authorities in economies like the US and UK are pushing for the regulation of these crafts. They are said to pose risk to property and human lives by intruding the countries’ national air space. We cannot entirely dispute these claims, but some of these threats mentioned have no real evidence and here is why.
First, the aviation authorities claim that drones pose significant risk to citizens, if the crafts fall from the sky. This is merely hypothetical as each passing day, humans have encountered unspecified flying objects falling from the skies as they are subject to the forces of gravity. Anything that is is on air, is bound to come to the ground eventually.
Second, as much as airport crews claim that drones could collide with manned aircrafts, there has not been any collision reported to date. Collision happen each day where birds fly into airplane engines causing engine failure, resulting to aircraft accidents. However, even bird related accidents are very rare. Between 1990 and 2014, only 12 bird strikes that caused human fatalities have been reported in the US. In addition, birds fly in fleets, and it’s rare to find a bird fly into a building, let alone a manned aircraft.
Finally, there is the public outcry that drones are intruding their privacy. Unless the craft owner is malicious enough to fly it over your homestead and take pictures, most hobbyists find pleasure in defying the forces of gravity, by flying the crafts in high altitudes. Our smartphones and other portable gadgets, like digital cams, if used for malicious purposes, are enough to violet one’s privacy. This logic has to be applied to the use of drones by the public.
Addressing the Dangers of Drones
But this does not entirely rule out that drones pose some danger to humans and property in the long run. Most countries are coming up with ways to regulate the use of these crafts. The US government is in the forefront in the protecting its airspace by lobbying for the application of geo fencing software in these crafts. This is where the drones, especially those used for recreational purposes are equipped with GPS to help them keep off restricted airspaces, like military barracks and airports. Additionally, drone pilots have to be registered with the aviation authorities and given operating licenses depending in their experience in the industry. Craft manufacturer are moving fast to develop autonomous unmanned crafts that can communicate with other flying objects such as jets to avoid collisions in the skies.
Do drones invade privacy? That is the big question that is in debate. The answer to the question really depends on who is operating the drone. Those who fly drones are to do so with courtesy and respect of others in mind.
Where to Fly Your Drone
Drones are fun to fly for drone enthusiasts, but they should fly them only in their own space over their property or in public areas. Those who operate their drones this way are acting responsibly and are not invading anyone’s privacy. There is no sense in complaining to those flying their drones in public areas, because they have a right to do so. They will know their legal rights and they will be very open about telling you so if you fuss at them about them flying their drones in a public area.
There is no question that there may be nuts out there from time to time that want to push the boundaries and that fly drones where they should not do so. It is fine to have a drone and to fly it; but to invade someone’s privacy is truly wrong and a violation of the law, for which the offender could and should be legally punished. This could result in fines, a loss of the drone, or even a prison sentence depending on the severity of the invasion of privacy. It likely would result in a restraining order against the person, in which it is stipulated that the person must not fly a drone anymore over the other person’s property.
When Drones Invade Privacy
It is true that a person has violated another person’s privacy if the person flies the drone over private property that is not his or hers. If people are really good neighbors, the person may fly the drone over the property without thinking. And the good neighbor may not mind. But if the neighbors are not close or on good terms, then the neighbor may very well mind. If you want extra space to fly your drone and want to fly over your neighbor’s property, you should ask permission first. But bare in mind, that your neighbors do not have to allow you to fly your drone over their property. Common courtesy would suggest that you only fly your drone over their property when they are not home, only if they have given you permission to do so.
Flying the drone high in the sky over the property may not seem like an invasion of privacy to the one flying the drone or to the one whose property it is flown over if the drone is high up in the sky. But if you notice a drone flying close to your window, or even high up but hovering within sight of the window, then you can be sure that someone is likely trying to spy on you in your home; because many drones today are equipped with cameras.
Even if you are on good terms with your neighbor, that does not give him or her the right to be bringing their drone close to your windows to capture you on camera. You should talk to the neigbhor if you think that he or she is easy to talk to and will resolve the issue by not flying the drone near your windows. But if the person does not comply with your request, or if you do not feel comfortable talking to the person, you do have every right to file a complaint with the police.
Can drones be detected by radar? A related incident happened at White House grounds. A federal worker crashed his drone at white house grounds. The incident attracted much interest regarding the capability of White House air defense system should someone want to use such a small drone to cause trouble. Although this person didn’t have bad intentions, but someday someone will. So, how does the U.S Secret Service—or others tasked with overseeing air defense be able to detect small drones?
There is a notion that small drones are hard to detect by radar. Kelly, the CTO of DeTect says this is not entirely true. Although he admits it is true you cannot detect a small drone with ordinary radar, air security companies like his have been building systems capable of doing just that. The challenge lies not in detecting the elusive radar incoming signals but in telling the difference between a small drone from the birds that the radar will also detect.
Measuring the Motion of the Targets
It is truly possible to tell the difference between detection of a small drone from a bird by evaluating the movement of the targets and other elusive aspects of each radar return. This would be useful with the help of machine intelligence. Machine intelligence would help tell the difference by automating the mechanism of detecting any sources/targets that don’t measure up to par with what you would presume to be a bird or other source of radar muddle.
Detection by Distinctive Sound Drones Make
DroneShield, a company based in Washington, D.C., uses a system that detects nearby drones by distinctive sounds they produce. But this brings some challenges. For example, detection may not work in urban environments where there is lots of noise around. Most microphones only listen well at 25 to 50 feet, so, because of the ambient noise in urban environments, any audio detection would be rendered useless. Also, wind noise can make it very difficult for the microphones to perform optimally. Furthermore, such a system would not be able to detect a drone programmed to fly unpowered when about to reach its target.
Detection via Radio Signals
Small drones can be detected via radio signals that some of them, or their controllers, produce. But that wouldn’t work if a drone is programmed to fly without radio uplinks or downlinks.
Small drones can be detected via video, but with some limitations. Although cameras can see out to about 350 feet, it can be difficult for the camera telling the difference between birds from drones. As far as detection by video is concerned, anything flying in the air is a drone. However, computer algorithms can be utilized to tell flight pattern of birds—a bird will fly at a more random pattern than a drone would. Unfortunately, this notion will fail in cases where birds glide. For example, seagulls will ride wind currents and stay at steady level, which would fool video detection systems.
Recreational drones would be effectively detected at a range of about 350 feet using thermal detection. But this would only work with drones that produce a lot of heat. Unfortunately, most drones do not produce a lot of heat. They are mostly run by electric motors covered in plastic. So, detection by heat signatures would most likely pick up a bird than it would a drone.