A version of this article was first published by Security Today.

 

Fireworks have been an essential part of Independence Day since the very first celebration back in Philadelphia in 1777. But like other holidays moving from open flames to electric lights to celebrate, the Fourth of July isn’t immune from technological changes. Cities are increasingly turning to drone displays as an alternative to traditional fireworks, citing fears about potential wildfires, concern for veterans with PTSD, and a desire to reduce air and noise pollution. 

 

Drone displays can produce a visually stunning display – all without odor or noise and at cost parity with traditional fireworks displays. Spectators see an array of tiny lit flying machines executing very skilled maneuvers to music, forming incredible, colorful and dancing designs painting the night sky with the same “WOW!” effect as fireworks. Major events like the most recent presidential election and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee both featured drone shows, showing that they’re rapidly being adopted around the globe. 

 

With the drone economy growing exponentially, drones are starting to play crucial roles in all aspects of society — from deliveries, agriculture, emergency response, and the military to art and culture. Unfortunately, this golden era of drones also presents opportunities for nefarious and careless activity in our skies. In order to tap the full potential of drones, we need to develop an action plan for citizens, enterprises, and ultimately the economy to ensure effective policing, protection, and policy — all without hampering the innovative, productive, and creative benefits that drones bring. 

 

Policing

The counter-drone industry isn’t anti-drone — in fact, the industry should be called “Airspace Security”. We recognize the impressive potential for drones to reshape — and fundamentally improve — society. Drones can create new jobs, help us be more productive, and keep essential supply chains flowing in even the most complex situations. And yes, they can be art. But at the same time, we also know that we must encourage the flourishing of legitimate drone activity while also stopping drones operated by malicious or careless users before they cause any issues. 

 

When it comes to securing major events across all areas from marathons and fun runs like the Cooper Bridge 10K or sporting events like the Preakness Stakes, companies like Dedrone have worked with local law enforcement to build a flexible, yet responsive system designed specifically to repel drone incursions. This includes automated alerts to provide actionable information like drone and pilot location, integrated cameras to visually document the pilot and identify potential drone payload, and ultimately solutions to mitigate unauthorized flights. Systems like our own DedroneRapidResponse can detect a drone as soon as it is turned on, even while warming up and establishing its bearings on the ground. This gives security teams a significant headstart on a pilot about to send a drone into the no-fly zone.

 

Protection

The industry is constantly developing new solutions in the ongoing drone arms race. For example, the industry has already developed systems that can identify malicious drone usage and deploy countermeasures. Dedrone has already deployed citywide protection, integrated with infrastructure and local law enforcement, in a southern European city. While not all developments are public yet, the industry is always hard at work. 

 

Policy

Finally, when it comes to policy, industry leaders and lawmakers are working in tandem to build policies that allow the productive drone economy to grow rapidly and still ensure people, property, and information are protected from the threat of drones. 

 

In April this year, the White House launched its Domestic cUAS National Action Plan. Among its eight major points are: 

 

  • Reauthorize / expand existing counter‑UAS authorities for federal and SLTT agencies
  • Enact comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal / illegal drone use with adequate penalties to deter UAS-based crimes
  • Establish oversight and enablement mechanisms to support critical infrastructure facilities in purchasing counter-UAS equipment

 

The FAA launched an effort late last year to test and evaluate technologies and systems that could detect and mitigate potential safety risks posed by uncrewed aircraft at and near airports, testing at five major airports around the country. This testing, which will continue through next year, will help inform the FAA as to what systems for drone detection and mitigation should be certified or permitted. 

 

Fireworks aren’t going away immediately. But at the same time, efforts to protect both citizens and the environment show that we need alternatives like drone shows. As we work to build a new, technologically-advanced Fourth of July tradition, we also need to build a system surrounding these drone shows that ensures they’re safe, uninterrupted, and easily enjoyed by viewers each and every year.



Mary-Lou Smulders

About the author

Mary-Lou Smulders is the Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, where she leads Dedrone's global marketing and communications team.

Originally published Jun 28, 2022, updated Dec 4, 2022