Part of an EnforceAir system from D-Fend Solutions, designed to protect facilities and events from drone incursions. (Courtesy D-Fend)
D-Fend Solutions touts technology that allows a ‘surgical’ approach
In response to drone incursions at outdoor facilities such as the September landing of an unmanned aircraft at Wrigley Field during a Chicago Cubs-Cleveland Indians game, one company is touting its ability to mitigate such situations, noting that it is providing its service at major outdoor sporting events in the U.S. and abroad.
D-Fend Solutions, based in Israel with a U.S. unit in Washington, D.C., has been in business since 2017. Its cyber radio frequency anti-unmanned aircraft system technology has been deployed at airports and around critical infrastructure and has found wide use in military and law enforcement applications, according to company CEO Zohar Halachmi.
It works not by knocking a drone out of the sky by use of so-called kinetic solutions, which can threaten the safety of anyone below, but by first identifying if the drone is being used by a wayward hobbyist, for instance, or if it was launched by someone with other, possibly malevolent intentions. D-Fend’s technology can then take command of the drone to mitigate the effects of an incursion.
“We know how to identify the drones in the neighborhood and then, once we identify them, we know how to understand which one is a friendly drone, or a not-so-friendly drone, or a hostile one,” Halachmi said. “And then, with cyber means, we know how to take control over the drone and just have a safe route to a safe landing place.”
A drone was used to drop leaflets over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home of the San Francisco 49ers, and RingCentral Coliseum, then the home of the Oakland Raiders, in 2017, Halachmi said. The culprit, who was trying to make a free speech statement, was quickly identified and arrested.
While there have been no violent attacks at venues or events in the U.S., the potential exists, as evidenced by the 2019 unmanned aircraft attacks on key oil infrastructure facilities in Saudi Arabia.
Even in the least serious cases, such incursions in live event and other commercial settings typically have economic consequences in terms of disrupting and delaying events or violating high-dollar broadcast deals, Halachmi notes.
The level of threat posed can be divided into four levels. The least malicious often involves kids, according to Halachmi.
“These are usually people who are just trying to fly drones around and above stadiums, just for interest,” he said. “Then you have all these kinds of intellectual property and media or broadcast thefts and all of those type of activities. Again, that’s an IP-type of problem and no more than that. The next level is usually a troublemaker or demonstrator.”
In addition to the Bay Area example, Halachmi cited a soccer match between Serbia and Albania in 2014, when a quadricopter drone appeared over Partizan Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia, carrying an Albanian nationalist banner. The match had already been marred by violent incidents on and off the field and play had been halted when the drone appeared.
A fourth level of threat involves something like terrorists sending a drone to a facility, possibly with an explosive or otherwise dangerous payload, Halachmi said.
“If you think about this, even if you are just going to come with white powder, that’s usually going to be enough to cause panic within a stadium,” he said.
In some cases, D-Fend’s technology allows an operator to identify where the drone came from.
The company’s “surgical” approach allows a venue to minimize the disruption. For example, clearing the stadium of guests might not be necessary if the nature of the threat is recognized as less serious than a possible terror attack, Halachmi said.
Although he was not able to reveal specific clients because of confidentiality agreements and security concerns, Halachmi said that D-Fend’s technology has been used at all of “the major” U.S. and worldwide sporting events “in the last 24 months.”
Asked about the affordability of the system, which is typically purchased, Halachmi said the potential savings that come from avoiding or minimizing delays and disruption make it a cost-effective solution, especially for venues like baseball stadiums with relatively frequent event days, but it can also make sense for one-off events like music festivals.
“If you use kinetic solutions or jammer or any of that type of technology, you have to stop everything,” he said, explaining that jamming drones by overriding the signals used to operate them typically interrupts cellular and Wi-Fi signals. “In our case, everything can continue as planned.”