Drones operated by irresponsible individuals threaten aircraft safety but could also be used to launch a terrorist attack

Satellite-based drone tracking system wins space award

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A low-cost satellite-based system for tracking drones developed by researchers from Strathclyde University in Glasgow has won Europe’s largest space innovation competition.

The system uses passive radar sensors that could be deployed around an area of interest such as an airport. The sensors reflect radar signals from Earth-orbiting satellites. If an object like a small UAV enters the area, the system would detect disruption to the radar signals and alert authorities.

“The University of Strathclyde’s innovative concept in the use of GNSS signals has great potential to be a step-change in low-cost monitoring,” said Andy Proctor, innovation lead for satellite technology at Innovate UK and one of the judges of the European Satellite Navigation Competition.

“As a judge, it was clear that this idea has great potential to move quickly from its research roots to a revenue potential, and winning the prize will enable this team to take the next steps on this path.”

The team led by Strathclyde researcher electronics engineer Carmine Clemente believes a commercial application could be ready in two years.

The growing presence of drones of various kinds in airspace has caused concerns to aviators and security experts. Small drones can be purchased by anyone without any training and cases have been reported of small UAVs nearly hitting landing passenger planes.

Terrorists could also use an explosive-laden UAV to carry out an attack on a public space. With the Strathclyde team's system, authorities would be alerted to a suspicious object nearing the area of interest.

Clemente’s team has received a €10,000 award and will be provided with further assistance to develop the technology.

The Strathclyde team was selected from 500 entries from 17 European countries.

“It is incredible to have won first place, especially seeing the calibre of entries,” Clemente said. “The competition is an exciting opportunity for us to accelerate our idea to a market-ready application.”

Another UK team, a start-up called Blubel, received €7,000 from the European Space Agency for its smart bicycle bell, which serves as a navigation.

Powered by a smartphone satnav app, the bell learns from other cyclists and suggests the fastest, safest and easiest routes. It can also collect data on the routes the cyclist prefers and other aspects to improve its route calculation for the rest of the community.

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