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Alabama Company Develops Tech to Track, Down Suspicious Drones

SAIC, based in Huntsville, Ala., has developed technology to track and take control of drones suspected of smuggling drugs or invading restricted airspace. The technology can identify and take command of UAVs roughly six miles away.

(TNS) — Every night, 50 drones fly illegal drugs across America’s southern border.

Huntsville, Ala., technology company SAIC said today that’s the estimate its team got when asking about aerial drug smuggling along the border. The company has been researching rogue drones and how to control them.

SAIC dates to Huntsville’s first technology era and presented its answer Wednesday to one of the world’s most modern technical challenges: drones. The answer is called a Counter Unmanned Aerial System (CUAS), and potential customers and media got to see it fly.

It isn’t just border security interested in what CUAS could do. The Defense Department, Customs, Federal Aviation Administration, federal prisons and the Transportation Security Administration — among others — want to know what’s up there, where it’s going and how to neutralize it without raining drone parts or cocaine on the countryside.

Greg Fortier, vice president of operations for SAIC Huntsville, called the company’s response “a system of systems where we are the technology agnostic integrator.” The company isn’t building the technology, in other words, but has put together a system Fortier called the “single pane of glass approach.” It’s all there on one screen.

Systems engineer Jeremy Davidson said the drone threat response has four priorities: detect the drone, track it, classify it (threat or fun-seeker) and if necessary neutralize or mitigate it by jamming or even taking over. It can all happen at a range of about 6 miles.

“Maybe they’re just not where they’re supposed to be,” Davidson said. No need to overreact. Just jam their control frequencies and take over.

The control screen uses different colors to distinguish different kinds of drone activity. It’s called a heat map. Different tracking lines also mean different things. Is it a bird, a drone, an aircraft?

“You can see where the activity is,” Davidson said, “that tells us a pattern of life of (the) threat. We can take other data and we can tell you exactly what drone models flew, what time of day they flew, what points they originated from, where they flew to. We can start building a threat profile picture.”

Feedback helps modify the monitoring screen, Davidson said, including changing to fewer buttons. “We don’t like a lot of button clicks,” customers said. “We want to be able to train quickly, to train anyone and for them to be proficient in a short period of time.”

After seeing what the system is designed to do, briefing attendees watched SAIC drone operators take control of a drone launched by others and land it where they chose. They also saw the portable model installed in an off-road vehicle and an even more portable link a person can Velcro to a uniform.

“It’s an international solution from Huntsville,” one said, “(because) it’s not just a Huntsville problem.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.