Overcoming the limitations of previous UAS detectors, a new Counter UAS (uncrewed air systems) Temporal Image Detection technology enables users to detect multi-propellered UAS in cluttered environments, such as city centres, which other systems have traditionally found difficult to operate in. This innovation is low-cost and can be used alone or as part of a networked sensor system.

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Small UAS or drones have become increasingly common and important for both commercial and military purposes. However, alongside this has been a similar rise with UAS being used for malicious purposes, posing increased risks to the safety of society.

Current UAS detection systems on the market have significant disadvantages. They are difficult to operate in cluttered environments such as city centres, and are high-cost, more complex, and often rely on active detection methods including radar and lasers to detect and track UAS activities. This increases the risk of the Counter UAS (C-UAS) being detected. Other options on the market also commonly require AI training to operate effectively, which can increase the cost and complexity of the operation.

It was essential that a new solution was found that mitigated these limitations.

The solution

Developed by Dstl (the UK’s Defence and Science Technology Laboratory), the new Counter UAS Temporal Image Detection technology provides an improved option for detecting potentially dangerous UAS. This technology uses cameras, either visible or infra-red, to identify the propellers of a UAS and enable the user to detect, locate, and potentially track these objects of interest, even in complex or cluttered backgrounds such as urban environments or city centres. As this detection method is passive, rather than active as other options on the market are, it increases the safety and discretion of the operation by not sending out any signals that can be picked up and responded to.

This innovation is lower cost than other UAS detectors as it uses COTS (commercial off the shelf) components, including cameras. It also offers a very high level of accuracy and a low false alarm rate, even when the UAS being detected are small (i.e. occupying only a few pixels in the images produced). The technology also exploits recent developments in electro-optics to assess temporal signatures in the environment, and locates the large characteristic temporal signature of a UAS.

The basis behind this UAS detection technique is to observe the relatively unique properties of moving UAS propellers and extracting the signature using an algorithm. This signature can be separated from the background clutter due to the relatively stable high frequency of the UAS’ rotor, and the lack of naturally occurring frequencies that could cause false alarms.

Key benefits

  • This technology enables the highly accurate detection of UAS with a low false alarm rate, even in complex or cluttered environments such as urban areas or city centres.
  • This technology is low in cost, due to the use of commercially available cameras.
  • It can use visible or thermal passive cameras, for day and night operations.
  • Unlike other options on the market, this technology does not require AI or training data to distinguish drones from the background – reducing costs and simplifying the process.
  • It is easy to install and low maintenance to run as it is fully automated and does not require continual manual input.
  • Due to passive temporal detection techniques, it is more discreet than other options as it does not send out signals that can be picked up and responded to by the UAS.
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Potential applications

Drone urban environments

Urban environments

This technology has many advantages in the urban environment. The techniques detect the unique temporal signature of a rotor UAS, which provides an advantage over other UAS detectors in cluttered or complex urban environments and city centres – enabling highly accurate detection of UAS with increased discretion and safety.

RF exclusion zones

As this technology is passive (receiving pictures only; not sending any signals out), it is applicable even in places where RF is excluded or controlled very carefully, such as airports. This provides an advantage over other UAS detectors which may be restricted or banned entirely in these environments.

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