Drones have offered significant advantages to mapping companies, surveyors, urban explorers, military operators, and commercial and hobby photographers. However, just like many technological developments, new devices aren’t always used with the best of intentions.
A number of prisons in the United Kingdom have discovered that organised crime syndicates have been using drones to smuggle contraband into prisons and other correctional facilities, creating the need for a drone-proof solution at some of the country’s most populated jails and prisons.
Leading the way, is not the largest or busiest prison in the UK, but instead the small Les Nicolles Prison of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Situated off the coasts of Britain and Normandy, this small facility is perhaps one of the best test grounds for the use of anti-drone technology in the UK.
The Development of Sky Fence
The drone jamming solution has been appropriately named “Sky Fence”, and it uses a wide network of around 20 RF devices that will block signals around the prison grounds. The technology will create a virtual perimeter wall that extends 600 meters into the sky, and it fully encloses the Les Nicolles facility.
The shielding device had to be designed with some special considerations in mind. It would need to restrict access without causing drones to simply fall out of the sky (leading to risk of property damage or personal injury). Instead, Sky Fence disrupts drones in a way that they are sent back to their point of origin, preventing any illicit payloads from reaching the prison grounds.
This type of technology is completely new, and hasn’t been deployed in any other prison in the UK, or anywhere else in the world. Sky Fence was developed by a collaboration between Eclipse Digital Solutions, and Drone Defence. It has been in development for over a year, and comes with some significant benefits. The system doesn’t require any hands-on hacking, so personnel won’t be required to interact with each individual drone that approaches the facility. Perhaps most importantly, the solution is affordable for prisons, and is expected to cost around £100,000 when it enters full production. The maximum estimated cost is £250,000 which many would consider a small price to pay to keep drugs, cell phones, and other contraband out of UK prisons.
Drones Becoming Increasingly Problematic for Prisons
Past incidents involving drones have seen drugs and cellular devices delivered into prisons. Attempted deliveries have increased in the past two years, coinciding with the increased availability of highly capable drones, as well as a reduction in price per unit. With manufacturers like DJI making professional quality drones available to everyday consumers, it is not surprising that criminals have jumped on the new technology for ill gain.
Sky Fence represents an impressive step in drone development, and it will be interesting to see how law enforcement and prison staff adapt to a future where drones are expected to be even more common.