As drones become faster, smarter, and capable of carrying larger payloads across longer distances, they pose a genuine threat if leveraged as a weapon. As a result, militaries have been developing anti-drone countermeasures to knock them out of the sky, including a novel new approach that blasts them with streamers.
Taking careful aim and blasting a drone out of the sky with a rifle isn’t impossible, but it’s not easy, and it’s not reliable. So the militaries of the world have been dumping as much money into developing counter-drone technology as they have been for developing the drone technology, to begin with, and have come up with solutions including everything from grenades that explosively release nets when in range of one, to long-range lasers that can intelligently track and zap drones long before they’re close enough to become a viable threat.
But as Core77 points out, DARPA, the United States’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been seemingly inspired to develop an alternate way to neutralise drones based on a video from a few years ago showing a camera drone crashing to the ground at a music festival after crossing paths with a confetti streamer cannon. The Achilles heel of most multi-engine drones, whose manoeuvrability and in-air stability are dependent on all of its propellers spinning at the same time, is to find a way to disable one or more of them. Researchers have found ways to safely land a partly disabled drone, but even minimal damage often means its primary mission or flight plan can’t be carried out.
As part of a larger system where X band radar is used to detect, identify, and track unmanned aerial threats, an automated system makes predictions of its flight path, and then automatically activates one of many reusable drone interceptors in the field, whichever can potentially get to the unknown drone the first. Instead of lasers, or bullets, or nets, the latest approach to neutralising the threat is to blast a wad of stringy but strong streamer like material that spreads out as it travels through the air, increasing the chance of at least one strand of the material getting wrapped around a drone’s propeller blade and bringing it to a stop, and in turn the entire craft.
Using streamers as ammunition poses many benefits as it’s cheaper, potentially more environmentally friendly when pieces that miss the target end up on the ground, and safer in the event there’s a targeting mishap. But that’s not to say it’s cheap, as the overall effectiveness of this approach is completely dependent on the autonomous flying interceptor getting close enough to hit the intended target, and seeing it in action you know it’s definitely not one of the military’s cheaper tools.