Yachts against bots

by | 15th May 2018 | News

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Ship & Boat International: eNews May/June 2018



Martek Marine is targeting the superyacht sector with a “drone detection and defeat system”, designed to ‘jam’ the controls of aerial drones that get too close for comfort, as well as tracing them back to their controllers. The D-FENCE system is intended to thwart the efforts of paparazzi using drone technology to snoop on superyachts and their guests – and even to prevent terrorists from attacking yachts with explosive or toxic payloads.


As Paul Luen, Martek CEO, puts it: “Drone technology offers some amazing opportunities within the luxury yacht sector but, as ever, ‘bad actors’ will seek to use the technology for nefarious purposes.” Such ‘bad actors’ have naturally taken advantage of the increased affordability of drone technology in recent years. For example, paparazzi unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become so common in Hollywood that the California State Legislature updated its laws to penalise drone-assisted breaches of privacy. Meanwhile, the landing of a small, commercially available drone aboard the UK Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth last year caused red faces at the Ministry of Defence.


“That incident was all too stark a warning of what could happen,” Luen tells Ship & Boat International. “Just 4kg of Semtex, which most commercial aerial drones can easily carry, could blow a hole in the deck of a VLCC or LNG carrier, leading not only to loss of that asset but also an environmental disaster”. Such a strike could easily be enacted with an investment of less than US$10,000, he adds.


As such, law enforcement agencies are keen to adopt systems that can effectively detect and disable unsanctioned UAVs before they reach their intended targets. Building on this proven technology, Martek has designed D-FENCE to identify commercial drones within a range of 10km and to display critical info, such as the drone’s heading and speed, its make and model number and the GPS positions of both the drone and its controller.


At the first sign of an incoming threat, the system’s detection software will trigger a series of escalating, visual and audible real-time alarms. These alarms are relayed both locally (ie, for crew aboard the yacht) and via GSM, WiFi, 3G or 4G – or “any sort of push notification-enabled service”, Luen says – to the smartphones and tablets of shore-based ship/company security officers, for example. 


To deploy D-FENCE, the yacht owner needs to install two radomes aboard the vessel: one for the system’s detection capabilities, the other for the jamming equipment. The D-FENCE detection software remains active around the clock.


Should the alarm be activated, the jamming system then comes into play.There are two ways of jamming the drone: using either a fixed or portable system. The fixed jammer functions within a 360degs x 180degs beam, and, for a typical yacht installation, would be effective at a range of up to 500m, though this can be extended to 1,500m if so required. This arrangement allows D-FENCE to create a 500m+ ‘electronic exclusion zone’ around the vessel, which, if breached, will trigger the automatic jammer.


Martek adds: “Should the drone approach this electronic exclusion zone, its control/video signal will be blocked, initiating its fail-safe mode and forcing it to land or return to its operator.” This jammer works by creating “signal overload” on the drone’s 2.4/5.8GHz channels, which disrupts the control signal between the drone and its controller. “This control signal is common across all commercial drones,” Luen says. Once the drone returns to its sender, the yacht owner can use D-FENCE’s GPS capabilities to pinpoint the whereabouts of the drone controller to within 0.5m and alert the authorities. By recording the drone’s serial number, D-FENCE can also be used to trace the bot back to its place of purchase, to unearth the controller’s identity.


While Martek is initially pitching D-FENCE to the superyacht sector, Luen believes that the system could greatly benefit the marine industry as a whole – protecting, for instance, vessels such as the aforementioned VLCCs and LNG carriers, as well as naval and offshore ships. “D-FENCE could also help companies to meet their International Ship and Port Facility Security [ISPS] Code obligations,” Luen says. “The ISPS Code doesn’t really consider aerial threats, but it needs to. The industry’s not awake to the risk posed by drones at the moment, but it needs to be, before there’s a major incident.”




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