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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Companies are developing ways to defend airports and other critical infrastructure from accidental incursions and deliberate attacks by aerial drones.

Why it matters: Drones provide cheap and easy ways to monitor land, deliver goods and simply explore. But as they proliferate, figuring out a method to prevent them from going where they shouldn't will become increasingly important.

Driving the news: Intelligence documents published in October indicate a small quadcopter-type drone was used in an attempted attack on a Pennsylvania power substation last year — the first known time a drone was used against the electrical grid.

  • Drones have been repeatedly sighted near airports, where they can interfere with takeoffs and landings. One such event shut down London's Gatwick airport for two days in 2018, and a drone attack on a Saudi airport in October injured 10 people.
  • "Drones are the easiest way someone can breach security these days," says Aaditya Devarakonda, CEO of the drone defense company Dedrone.

By the numbers: Dedrone found a 217% increase in unauthorized drone access to nine selected U.S. facilities between 2019 and 2020, and it says the number has only increased since then.

How it works: Dedrone's first line of defense is sensors capable of picking up the radio frequency signals used to communicate with and control a drone, or it uses radar or visual images.

  • "That can inform the strategy and how they would deploy security personnel at a site like an airport," says Devarakonda.
  • For government organizations that need to protect important assets, Dedrone offers machines that can jam the frequencies drones use to operate, which can neutralize or even turn them back.

What's next: The Federal Aviation Administration — which sees more than 100 drones buzzing near airports per month — recently began work at the Atlantic City Airport in New Jersey on better drone detecting technology.

The bottom line: Devarakonda worries real change won't come until there's a drone equivalent of 9/11. "If some bad person wants to do it," he says, "it's very easy."

Go deeper

Dec 16, 2021 - World

U.S. blacklists world's largest commercial drone firm for Uyghur surveillance

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Treasury Department has added eight Chinese companies — including DJI, the world's largest commercial drone manufacturer — to an investment blacklist for actively supporting the "surveillance and tracking" of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China.

Why it matters: The U.S. is cracking down aggressively on virtually any company — American or Chinese — believed to be complicit in the Chinese government's genocide of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang. DJI is accused of providing surveillance drones to authorities that operate mass detention camps in Xinjiang.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu plea talks enter crunch time

Netanyahu (right) meets with his lawyer ahead of a court hearing last February. Photo: Reuven Casto/Pool/AFP via Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister, is negotiating a possible plea deal over the corruption charges against him, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit appears to be toughening his terms.

Why it matters: Mandelblit leaves office on Jan. 31. Negotiations could continue beyond that point, but the next attorney general may be less interested in quickly reaching a deal.