In April 2018, SDM published an article exploring to what extent unmanned systems would be used in the security industry.
“If you were to poll security systems integrators across the country, you would probably find few if any that are selling or promoting drones and robots as a solution or a means of profit,” Tim Scally writes in the article, “Is It Time for Security Drones and Robots?”
Oh how things have changed in just 19 months.
Today, if you haven’t explored offering drones as a security service, you’re already late to the party. The technology has taken off like a rocket, with new security drone start-ups popping up every day. Most large systems integrators are already involved with drones in some capacity. ISC West has hosted an Unmanned Security Expo within the larger conference for three years now. And to make adoption of this new technology easier, the regulations the government places on drones have become more lenient.
Counterdrone security is probably the oldest and most popular way in which drone technologies have been used in the security space, mostly because of its use in the military, where regulations are much more lenient.
For example, Liteye Systems Inc., a technology solutions provider and integrator of military and commercial counter-unmanned aerial systems, helmet-mounted displays, thermal cameras and augmented weapons sights based in Denver, Colo., first became involved in counterdrone services in Korea in 2013. Liteye’s technologies were being used by the U.S. military to watch people in vehicles, when one day, the operator started detecting things that were not showing up on the cameras. They soon realized the Liteye equipment was actually tracking unmanned aerial systems.
“That was about the same time that a North Korean drone hit the Blue House (the White House of South Korea) and we started realizing the potential of what this technology could do in war zones,” says Kenneth Geyer, Liteye CEO. “Things started accelerating in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Ukraine, and in 2015, the Army and Air Force put out a call to the industry to see what could be done to protect against drone attacks, and that was the kick off for us.”
Liteye deployed its first counterdrone system in Iraq in November 2016. In 2017, Liteye’s technologies dropped more than 1,000 drones in a battle — an occasion generals termed as “the day the drones stopped.”
Today, Liteye counterdrone technologies have been used in 45 different government exercises, but now the company wants to bring its systems to the commercial security space.
“The military was the early adopter because they had the first issues with drone attacks, but now we’re really starting to see how our systems could be used anywhere,” Geyer says. “We’ve had a system deployed at Gatwick Airport in England since last year, after it was closed for three days because of drones flying in the flight lines, and that was the first commercial application we’ve deployed.”
Like many counterdrone offerings, Liteye’s system is adaptable, with multiple capabilities, allowing the operator to detect, track and defend against unmanned aerial systems.
“The biggest challenge is [that] in the military they can use all of these capabilities, but in the commercial space right now there are regulations that prevent us from using different types of capabilities,” Geyer says.
So their technologies can perform at their highest capabilities, the team at Liteye has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as it revises the regulations placed on drone and counterdrone technologies.
Currently, companies are able to detect, track and identify drone threats; however, there is not much that can be done to defend against drones, unless you are in a war zone. While other countries are starting to allow counterdrone systems to defend against drone threats at airports, we still cannot tamper with drones in flight lines at U.S. airports.
“Right now, military bases can defend themselves, nuclear sites can defend themselves, but if it’s an oil pipeline or anywhere else, you really kind of have your hands tied,” Geyer says. “I’d like to believe we’re going to get through the regulations and see changes, but we’ll see. Unfortunately, it seems like these things move faster after a bad event happens, not before.”
DroneShield, a global drone security company based in Sydney, Australia, also has defend capabilities used by the military, but detect, track and identify capabilities for commercial purposes.
“The most common question people kept asking was, ‘What do you do once you’ve detected a drone?’” says Oleg Vornik, DroneShield CEO. “And the answer for a lot of people is not much, because legislation is set in a way where a drone is treated the same way as an aircraft — and if you have a helicopter buzzing above your house, you can’t just take a weapon and shoot it down unless you’re military in a war zone. But while you can’t take defense measures, there’s a lot of stuff you can do — you can go inside and close the blinds, or figure out where the pilot is and apprehend them.”
So while DroneShield offers flashy counterdrone defense products like a drone gun, the company also offers solutions that can track and identify a rogue drone.
As one of the first players in the counterdrone space, DroneShield has become a trusted provider for the security industry, and recently has been scoring huge partnerships.
In July, a partnership was announced with Bosch under the Bosch Integration Partner Program (IPP). Through the partnership, DroneShield’s drone detection and mitigation products can now be integrated with Bosch’s video surveillance products.
In September, DroneShield made the news again by partnering with BT Group — Britain’s largest telecommunications company.
“We think that off the coattails of BT and other big guys like Bosch, we will get a lot of sales,” Vornik says. “And for them, it gives them another point of difference, making their existing products more competitive. ... You don’t want to be a commodity, you want to have strong growth, and adding counterdrone capabilities gives you that extra edge.”
However, he says not to underestimate partnerships with smaller companies.
“The big guys offer a platform, the ability to make very large sales, but just like any large company, they’re maybe not quite as agile as a 10-person business,” Vornik says. “So when we do business we find that most of our partners aren’t big guys, but relatively smaller guys who have deep relationships with their customers. We have 100 partners around the world at the moment, and out of that 100 I would say maybe 10 are big companies.”
Geyer stresses that whatever size your security company is, you should offer solutions for your customers to defend themselves against drone attacks.
“Everyone should be addressing drone threats,” Geyer says. “If they can’t afford drone systems yet, they should be part of the security picture. You need to explore what happens if a drone is sited, what your company can do. ... People have been killed by drone strikes in Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia — this is a specific threat that’s coming. A drone is a toy, but it’s also a very useful toy and a tool for many different things and different industries, so we have to protect those capabilities, but at the same time not infringe on an authorized company doing maintenance or doing inspections with a drone.”
Patrolling Drones for Perimeter Security
While companies have been using drones to detect other drones for a while now, a new offering has started popping up in the world of unmanned systems: drones used for patrolling purposes to locate physical security threats from people, animals or anything, really.
Percepto, one of the first companies to offer drones for surveillance purposes, was born out of a ski trip. The founders (Dor Abuhasira, Sagi Blonder, Raviv Raz and Arieal Avitan) wanted a drone to follow and be able to track them while skiing, and since they were all engineers, they decided to develop a tracking mechanism for drones.
“Over time they realized they had something much bigger than a drone following people on vacation,” says Illy Gruber, vice president of marketing at Percepto. “This is where they harnessed the technologies to make the drone-in-a-box.”
The drone-in-a-box is a fully autonomous drone that you control through a command system. Utilizing computer vision and machine learning, the drone-in-a-box serves as a flying video camera, giving security teams eyes in the skies.
“We started selling the drone-in-a-box in 2018, and it’s now in more than 10 countries, at several of the largest organizations worldwide,” Gruber says. “This solution really increases the security of an organization. Instead of sending human guards to investigate a noise, a drone is going to get there much faster without risking anyone just to verify what’s going on.”
While Gruber says the regulations have certainly been tricky to navigate, they aren’t really holding Percepto back.
“The regulations are in many ways the most significant barrier today that prevents this technology from becoming a commodity that’s used by everybody,” Gruber says. “We’ve been in this business for five years now and have offered the drone-in-a-box for two, so we’ve been working on molding the regulations in different countries, even with the FAA, on a daily basis. But all in all there is a very clear path today on how to get a waiver with the FAA.
“Everyone is pursuing this path because they know it is the future — they know it’s more than a fun flying camera. ... I’ve been working in the security industry for about 15 years now, and traditionally, this market is lagging behind from a technology standpoint. There are a lot of reasons for why that is, but first and foremost it’s because security is always a cost factor, so many are hesitant to do more if they don’t see a much greater value in the new technology. But we do have partners that are large players in the security industry like Johnson Controls and G4S, so large companies do show interest in adding to their portfolio because it will help them differentiate themselves and offer customers the latest technology. And this is going to significantly change the way organizations are running their security operations.”
G4S Secure Integration, Omaha, Neb., partners with Percepto and multiple other drone vendors.
“G4S began its exploration of drone usage in 2017, specifically for the critical infrastructure sector, in an evaluation of the potential for efficiencies between technology and manned security officers,” says Steve Sinclair, vice president of critical infrastructure/energy, G4S Secure Integration. “G4S then quickly identified numerous other deployment opportunities within our customer base across the security industry. ... In the near future, drones will be extremely profitable by creating enhancements for a location’s physical security posture (assessment, detection and response) and allowing for labor resources to be reallocated into a more efficient operational role.”
Ofir Bar Levav, general manager of Johnson Controls’ JCI Open Innovation Center in Tel Aviv, said that Johnson Controls started looking at drone technologies in 2015, when they first felt the technology was maturing to a stage in which it could benefit the commercial security market.
“Once mature, we see drones as a major value contributor in the security market as well as the site inspection market,” Bar Levav says. “When an autonomous system is deployed on site, it can perform routine security tasks such as patrolling, responding to events and providing situational awareness. In addition, the same system can perform ongoing inspection tasks (of rooftops, water reservoirs, pipelines, solar fields and more) increasing the return on investment.”
While Percepto’s drones are mostly used in the commercial market, patrolling drones are soon coming to the residential market, too.
Alex Pachikov, founder and CEO of Sunflower Labs, a home security drone company based in San Francisco, first thought of using drones for residential outdoor security three years ago, when various noises at his own home left him searching for a solution.
“I constantly heard all sorts of noises or various animals, or sometimes even teenagers partying,” Pachikov says. “It wasn’t quite a security threat, but it was a nuisance, and we constantly woke up in the middle of the night, and we just wanted to know what’s happening. The only solution on the market at the time was essentially to buy a bunch of stationary cameras and place them all over, and that would require a lot of cameras that would need to be mounted and wired, so it wasn’t a practical solution for me. I was talking to my friend and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had an autonomous drone we could send out either to patrol or observe an event?’ One thing led to another, and we thought this was actually a much bigger idea than my problem with the forest, and we thought the security industry as a whole hasn’t really resolved the problem of dynamic observation.
“Everyone has static installations for security, but nobody had worked on something that could cover a large property on demand. We looked at what else is available in the market, but there was essentially nothing of this kind. And this was when drones had their first peak hype cycle three or four years ago, and what was evident even at the time was while drones seemed like toys, we saw the technology had much broader applications in various markets,” he describes.
Since then, Pachikov built a team and worked at developing this autonomous perimeter observation drone. And after three years, Sunflower Labs’ product soon will be available for purchase. The startup already has a partnership with security integration company STANLEY Security, Fishers, Ind.
Pachikov also was a keynote speaker at the ESX show in Indianapolis this past June. “We think that something like this is not only inevitable, but it’s at our doorsteps,” he pronounced at the time.
“I think security will by far be more popular than other use cases for drones, because with delivery drones, for example, you only need one for every 1,000 people,” Pachikov says. “But with a residential security drone, you need one for every home. So if this really takes off, I think a large number of residential homes will have them, a whole bunch of commercial facilities will have them, and there will be drones dedicated to the security of each facility. I think the potential is for millions of drones flying at low altitudes to provide security.”
Thomas Nakatani, vice president IT, monitoring technology, ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla., says, though, that he believes there are still challenges facing the widespread selling of drones for security purposes.
“Drones are very inexpensive cameras with good analytics,” Nakatani says. “Especially in an indoor space, if a drone costs $5,000 to operate, and that’s the same price as maybe 50 cameras, why do I need a drone? Even outdoors, there are LTE cameras coming out with solar power where the battery can almost last indefinitely. ... We’ll see how big of an impact drones will make, but I don’t doubt that in some shape or form we will have drones incorporated into our services.”
While interest in using drones for security applications is growing rapidly, it still isn’t the norm, mostly due to strict federal regulations, and the technology being so new. But the possibilities for the future of drones in the security space truly seem endless.
“Many technologies, such as advanced electric batteries, start in military markets and move to the commercial markets,” says David Kroetsch, vice president of unmanned aerial system technology, FLIR Systems, Wilsonville, Ore. “Today the vast majority of drones FLIR manufactures are sold to military markets, partly because they have the need for the most advanced technologies and partly because they aren’t restricted by FAA regulations. In many ways, the military adoption of drones is 10 years ahead of the adoption of drones in the commercial or industrial markets. So it’s not that commercial drones are not coming; their adoption is just a few years behind.”
Still, some companies are hesitant to become involved with drone technologies, and unsure of how valuable their customers would find it.
“The drone topic is an interesting one for us, and the challenge is not in the capabilities, but whether we can maximize the benefits while operating drones and dealing with inherent risk,” says Amir Schechter, director of advanced solutions, Convergint Technologies, Schaumburg, Ill. “There is a lot of hesitation around regulatory issues and liability. We expected this market to move a lot faster, honestly.”
David Greenberg, head of global sales, Dedrone, San Francisco, suggests the drone industry, while in its infancy, will continue to develop as laws and regulations do. However, as more drones enter the airspace, identifying those with bad intentions quickly and efficiently will start to become a focus of safety and security professionals.
“The emerging security threat of drones is difficult to understand as most organizations do not have the appropriate technology to aid them in understanding their true vulnerability,” Greenberg says. “As more drones penetrate the airspace above critical infrastructure, organizations are starting to educate themselves on the damages that can ensue. However, if you consider the federal space, drones have always been thought of as a weapon on the battlefield, so drone technology within organizations like the Department of Defense is much better understood.
“But at Fortune 500 companies, lower air space has never been a part of their security system, they never had to take it into consideration. For years and years there wasn’t anything in the sky, and now there is.”
Susan Friedberg, communications manager, Dedrone, says, “This is an escalating threat. Drones are going nowhere; drones are here to stay. We’re just at the beginning of understanding what drones can actually do — we’re at the very beginning of this market.”