They began working with Boston Police just 5 years ago protecting the Boston Marathon, moved on to the Olympic Games in South Korea, and were just featured on French national TV during the 2019 Bastille Day Parade with President Macron. This Sydney start-up is now exporting across 70 countries after listing on the ASX in 2016.
If you haven’t heard of DroneShield, you soon will.
“DroneShield’s technology is designed and delivered by Australians using Aussie know-how – a great example of an innovative defence industry business excelling on the world stage,” Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said to ADM.
This is the second article in our series of innovative Aussie companies taking on the world. In this case, protecting the world from the storm of drones they saw coming over five years ago when drones were thought of as just toys for kids. I sat down in Sydney with Oleg Vornik, CEO of DroneShield to discuss the start-up’s success and where it’s headed.
DroneShield started operations about five years ago, back when drones were still quite basic. At the time, a drone used to have about a five-minute battery life and a 100-metre flight distance without any kind of sophistication in terms of sensors or control. How things have changed. Off-the-shelf drones can now carry payloads in excess of 25 kilograms, travel on autopilot, delivering anything from drugs across borders or books from Amazon, or spraying large crops.
But what if you were to replace a crop spraying drone with biological or chemical agents? What if a tiny drone got sucked into the engine of an aeroplane? Or, easier still, what would happen if you just dropped a drone into the cooling stack of a power station with a nasty payload?
Five eyes forces in numerous current theatres have found themselves without substantial control of the air space in which they operate. Of course, they control the higher air space under fast jets and AEW&C platforms, but the middle air space is uncontrolled. I have heard anecdotes from Australian special forces; when responding to a terrorist attack, they saw the enemy’s drones report their every move.
Your drone is spying on you
The largest global manufacturer of drones is China’s DJI, accounting for almost 85 per cent of the world’s drone sales. Bloomberg Quint’s recent article “Banned Chinese Security Cameras Are Almost Impossible to Remove” outlined how some Chinese-made security cameras have been identified as having covert back doors allowing unauthorised people to tap into them and send information to China. Well, there’s nothing to stop the same thing happening with the data from a drone. It is understood the Pentagon has banned the US military from using Chinese made drones for this reason.
In answer to this increasingly contested space, DroneShield recently released their smaller, lighter DroneGun MarkIII. It is a two-kilogram pistol shaped device designed to be carried on patrol. It complements the larger DroneGun Tactical which has a range out to two kilometres. But where DroneShield really excels is in detection. Without being able to detect a drone, there’s no point to counter measures. And this is an exciting point, because their fixed site systems, DroneSentinel and DroneSentry are able to use triangulation, listening for both the uplinks and the downlinks, to pinpoint the location of the pilot.
NSW Defence Innovation Network (DIN) Grant
This month, the NSW DIN were proud to announce a Seed Project grant to DroneShield where they will be working in conjunction with University of Technology Sydney (UTS) researchers.
"DroneShield is one example of the innovation coming out of the state, with industry-leading ideas in defence and other sectors from Armidale to Albury getting a boost from the NSW Government," Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney stated to ADM.
“We’re really excited to work with NSW’ universities and we thank the NSW Government for their ongoing support,” DroneShield’s Oleg said. “I think the structure is well developed in terms of having an alignment between the university and the private sector.”
Note: Lincoln Parker works for the NSW Defence Innovation Network (the DIN is an initiative of the NSW Government, Defence Science & Technology Group and seven NSW universities). The author’s views are his own.