Transforming networks and wireless communications to keep people safe from aerial threats
Jonathan Hunter is the founder and CEO of Department 13. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, Department 13 develops counter drone technology with applications in both commercial and and homeland security settings. Unlike directed energy weapons or radio jammers, the company’s Mesmer technology disables unmanned aerial vehicles with minimal collateral damage and radio interference.
Jonathan is a Bronze Star-decorated former U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Officer who has spent decades helping defense, federal law enforcement, and commercial organizations disable Improvised Explosive Devices. He spoke with Ron Gula, President of Gula Tech Adventures, for this interview.
RON GULA: Is Department 13’s technology legal to operate inside the United States, or do any rules or laws or regulations need to be changed?
JONATHAN HUNTER: Currently, not even a guy with a roll of toilet paper could throw it at that drone legally, because you'd be violating the 1986 Airplane Sabotage Act. What we've done is we've worked with educating Capitol Hill and Congress, both at the committee level and the congressional staff level, and we’ve educated them just around the issues with drones, also with the technology that's playing within the drones—and specifically the drone mitigations—and right now, for the first time, there’s a language in the FAA reauthorization bill that's come out of committee that will allow for Mesmer to do what we do, because it actually gives waivers to the Aircraft Sabotage Act, the Wiretap Act, the pen trap statute, and we believe that this is going to allow for the first time—because it actually calls out in the bill—mitigation of drones.
I would imagine Department 13’s not alone in this, but you probably have many customers, facility owners, who want to be able to notify when there's a drone flying over that they don't know about, or even interdict those drones in the first place.
This brings up a unique point about Department 13 and where we sit. There are many, many companies that are doing counter drone. Most of them are detection-based solutions. Not only do we detect, but we identify what type of drones or model, and then we actually are able to mitigate the threat. Most people who are in the commercial marketplace are only detection-based systems, so that gives you a situational awareness—“Hey, there's a drone in my area”—but then what do you do. What we’ve found, even with our commercial customers, that we've done trials for is they want that capability to affect their airspace in a very positive manner, and we believe that the only solution currently available for them is Mesmer.
With that sort of hands-off automation, it almost becomes like a drone forcefield, where you don't need to have people leaping into action when a drone comes around.
My favorite thing to do is to do the land in the safe area. We were in Singapore at a Milipol conference, and we demonstrated this capability and, and most people who had never seen it, their first reaction was: “Okay, you do a Denial of Service attack?” “Oh no, we don't.” “Oh, you do a replay attack?” “No, we don't.” We do full protocol manipulation. And what we do during the demonstration is, about 2 to 3 kilometers away, we take the drone and we put it into a designated one meter circle in the air. Once it lands, I turned and looked to the guy and I said, “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” And he says, “absolutely not.” His reaction was priceless because what that demonstrates is the powerful capability that you have within Mesmer—the software-based counter-drone solution.
Do you have any general tips for drone safety for people out there who might have their own drone, or be around drones?
One: don't fly your drone over the White House fence. That would be the first tip I would say. But two: just be aware of your surroundings. Clearly, there are rules. I would definitely advise people to read the FAA Section 107, the website of the current roles. They are changing from time to time, so you always need to refresh yourself on these rules and regulations that are out there.
To just be smart, right? Don't fly it beyond your line of sight. Always see what's going on, because there's things that happen around in the airspace that change very fast. That could be a helicopter flying, a plane flying lower than maybe it should be, or just people being present in those areas that you’re flying a drone that you’re not aware of.
Jonathan, thank you for joining us today. I appreciated hearing more about your background and all about Department 13’s ability to interdict drones.
Thank you for your interest in Department 13, Ron.
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