Ways to stop a rogue drone

Guard From Above, the company that trains the eagles being used by the Dutch police, claim the birds are used to overpowering large and dangerous prey, and that the scales on their talons which protect them from victims’ bites will also shield them against drones. But the carbon fibre blades of many drones are unlike a natural hazard, and have been known to cause serious injuries, including a child’s eye being sliced in half.


Eagle interception may appear simple but there are numerous other ways to intercept rogue drones already under development. Alternative physical interception methods also provide a way to deliver the target safely to the ground so the police can confiscate and examine it, without raising animal welfare issues. Police in Tokyo, for example, recently announced plans to deploy drones that can drop nets on rogue platforms, an approach that has been described as “robotic falconry”. But, as with eagles, these relatively new and untested systems require trained officers to deploy them.

Other potential approaches include using another drone to intercept the rogue unit and cause it to crash, or one that fires projectiles or “drone munition” at the target. However, this has the obvious downside of causing it to drop out of the sky, creating a considerable safety hazard and making the drone more difficult to retrieve.

Another idea for intercepting a drone is to manipulate its software or interfere with its electromagnetic operating range. A key advantage of these approaches is that they don’t necessarily require a police officer to be present at the drone’s location. One such method is known as geo-fencing because it involves erecting an invisible “electronic fence” that prevents drones from flying into certain areas or at certain times.

These areas are embedded into a drone’s software by the manufacturer and can be added or altered with each software update. While this may be a particularly good way to protect sensitive sites such as airports, there are already concerns that some drone users may be able to bypass the software.

Other non-physical approaches to countering drones are more active and involve interfering with and manipulating the drone. Jamming involves sending out an electronic signal that blocks the GPS navigation system and attacks the command link to the operator, essentially confusing the drone. This can also affect other GPS users in the area, however, and unauthorised jammers are often illegal.

More active still are spoofing or hacking techniques that involve fooling the drone’s GPS system and taking control of the device. While this approach can be effective against rogue drones, legitimate users are also vulnerable to spoofing technology that is relatively easy to construct.

A perfect solution has yet to be found, but interest and investment in drone countermeasures is increasing, giving authorities a growing number of options for tackling rogue drones. While reactions to the Dutch police’s idea may at times be amusing, choosing a humane answer to the problem deserves a more thorough and thoughtful reflection, one that’s less hasty than an eagle downing a drone.

Anna Jackman is Lecturer in Political Geography, Royal Holloway. This article, originally published 10 February 2016 and updated 21 December 2018, is published courtesy of The Conversation.