Technology

How to track down ‘rogue’ drones? IIT-Madras researchers may have a solution

A drone model that can track down unauthorised drones

A drone model that can track down unauthorised drones   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

IIT-Madras researchers have developed an electronic warfare model that could help the Armed Forces track down unregulated drones and secure air space

It is a matter of national security.

There has been a detection of unauthorised UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) hovering around the Indian airspace. Upon closer examination, it has been confirmed that these are rogue drones that have the capacity to set off a lethal airstrike. In such a scenario, what would be the most effective retaliatory measure that would not warrant bloodshed?

To commission anti-UAVs equipped with an AI-powered software that would hack into the GPS navigation system of the enemy drone, changing its coordinates and neutralising operations — does it not sound like a subject that would interest Hollywood veteran Steven Spielberg?

This, however, is a year-long pet project designed by IIT-M researchers Vasu Gupta, final year student, Department of Aerospace Engineering, and his friend Rishabh Vashistha, a project associate. They were mentored by Ranjith Mohan, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Aeromodelling is Vasu’s area of interest, as is Rishabh’s. Their design sensibilities matched, further cementing their fascination for aircraft. Their ultimate goal was to create a modular drone, whose components can be attached or detached and the flight controller, too, can be programmable as per requirement — akin to a Lego toy.

They began brainstorming plausible solutions to real-time issues, before getting started on the hardware part. “I’m an aircraft designer, but I had to rely on Singapore and China for fabrication, which is a bad dependency. We had to import certain parts from China for this drone model,” says Vasu, adding that they had to build everything from scratch.

How does it work?

Ideally, law enforcement drones are used by Defence Forces and Intelligence Agencies for surveillance and rescue operations among other things. Theirs, Vasu says, is an electronic warfare model that could help the Armed Forces secure air spaces and track down unregulated drones.

It ‘hacks’ into rogue drones and sends false GPS signals for communication. The target drone’s GPS sensor would lock onto their fake radio station, which transmits signals at a much higher rate than the available one. In doing so, the drone generates fake GPS packets that are received by the enemy, thereby calibrating the rogue drones’ latitude and longitude positions, when it enters the airspace.

Vasu Gupta and Rishabh Vashistha with their drone model

Vasu Gupta and Rishabh Vashistha with their drone model   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Basically, ours will act as a GPS satellite. The rogue drone would think ours is a legit source and would begin to communicate from our radio station,” explains Vasu, “By this operation, you can change its latitude, longitude and altitude, and force them to land safely.”

In addition to this, visual sensors and cameras help to monitor the behaviour of civilians — whether he is armed or not. “Let’s assume that your posture defines your intentions. If there’s any suspicious activity involved, our drone would notify the operator waiting for his command. Once it gets approval, it can track you down,” he says.

They had three attributes to factor in, in the larger framework of law enforcement drones: endurance, aero capacity and utility features.

For example, the length and breath of the propellers and router configuration would determine whether the drone can fly for 30 minutes or whether it can withstand a maximum wind speed of 65 km/hr. They referred to drone models employed by other countries, particularly Israel. “There are a range of drones out there; micro, mini and nano. But what we are talking about is a quadcopter. Israel has its own combat vehicle,” says Rishabh, adding, “Buying is a relatively easier option, but we wanted to design a completely indigenous model.” What motivated Rishabh, having failed at several attempts at joining the Defence Forces, was his passion to “serve the country”.

No man’s land

The biggest advantage of their prototype lies in its ability to operate beyond the line of sight control — the upper limit being 400 feet altitude for drone operations. It can also intercept phone calls at 250 feet above ground level. “You can set it up in Delhi and fly in Hyderabad. This is not an issue, communication is controlled over the Internet,” says Rishabh, adding that it has a battery that can last up to 50 minutes, while the industry standard is over 40-45 minutes.

What’s inside?
  • The individual components are: motors, propellers, lithium battery, radio elementary antenna, flight controller, camera and sensors.
  • With payload, it can last up to 25-30 minutes of flight capacity. The drone model weighs about 4 kg and can carry a fully-loaded rifle.
  • The software is completely modular and has been coded in C++ and Python.
  • It took a year-and-a-half to build their drone model, costing over ₹9 lakh.

Their drone is also equipped with swarming technology — a technique that deploys drones in squadrons. They, in fact, tested with 25 drones at disposal, “You take complete control of a region by swarming. Ten drones can secure an airspace of 20 kilometres. You can also employ tracking and shooting,” he adds.

Vasu and Rishabh flirted with the idea of attaching firearms in their drone model, but have not got permission to carry out tests for obvious reasons. “It has provision to carry a fully-loaded rifle [like an AK 47]. It may drift about 8-10 cm, but can withstand its recoil. This is something we actively worked on and look forward to testing in real-time,” says Vasu.

A thermal image of human activity

A thermal image of human activity   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A 2019 report states that India reported over six lakh rogue drones of varying size and capacity — of which most of them were termed “potential threat”. Currently, measures are being taken to develop and deploy counter-drones. Vasu and Rishabh presented their model at the Defence Expo 2020 held recently in Lucknow. Talks have been initiated with the Tamil Nadu Commando Force and Madhya Pradesh Government, but nothing has been finalised yet. “It’s a long process that takes about five to six months just to foster a meeting. It’s a back-and-forth process,” adds Rishabh.

The duo will demonstrate its model to Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on April 14.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:50:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/iitm-researchers-develop-law-enforcement-drones/article31109034.ece

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