It began with a few rumors, quirky youtube videos and ‘insider scoops’ – the future was here, drones were to be used for delivery. Amazon was to send items to their customers through the use of commercial drones. However, malicious reality soon struck. As simple as it was to get the idea up in the air, others were proving it even simpler to bring down.

Now with the drone delivery system taking its first steps, it’s only natural that Amazon should be thinking of what to do should their drones come under fire. We don’t know exactly what Amazon have in mind, but a new patent has appeared that shows where the company may be heading.

amazon drone defense
Amazon’s new patent shows a variety of threat vectors against it’s drones

In most states within the U.S. it is illegal to shoot down drones, even within your own property. In fact Brendan Schulman, VP of Policy & Legal Affairs for drone company DJI, shared a little insight involving the laws associated with shooting down a drone.

“In some states, you could face reckless endangerment charges or be prosecuted under laws relating to the discharge of firearms. By destroying the drone, you may be liable for civil damages to its owner. Although I have not seen it raised yet, there is also a federal crime in Title 18 relating to destruction of an aircraft that could apply, and that would involve very serious penalties.”

The laws and the penalties associated with breaching them may deter some but for others, shooting down one of Amazon’s drones can be seen as a lucky dip prize. This poses a threat to Amazon as both drone and product damage will be incurred by the company if they are unable to find who did it.

Now this is where the patent comes in.

The patent, spotted by Motherboard, outlines “countermeasures for threats to an uncrewed autonomous vehicle.” The idea is in fact pretty simple. The drone will obtain information stating where it is based, not only by its own sensors, but by external data from a second drone using what’s know as the “mesh network”. If the data from both drones don’t correspond, something must be wrong and then security measures will take place.

Amazon Drone Patent
Amazon drone patent shows safety procedures if shot at by a bow
(Source: Amazon)

The patent states “A first UAV may receive external data from a second UAV using the mesh network. The external data may be used to confirm or cross-check data such as location, heading, altitude, and so forth. Disagreement between data generated by the first UAV with external data from the second UAV may result in the determination that the first UAV is compromised. Remedial actions may be taken, such as the first UAV may be directed to a safe location to land or park, may receive commands from another UAV, and so forth.”

The patent lays out a number of possible problems which might be caused by an adversarial actor. Contained within the patent are some steps the UAV might take in the case of an attack.

Depending on the situation, the drone will be programmed to follow certain procedures. For example, the targeted drone might receive assistance from a secondary drone which would provide commands to direct the targeted drone towards a safe landing, parking, docking area, etc.

drone shotgun
Using a shotgun to shoot down a drone

In other circumstances the drone may relay information back to the administrative user so that they can solve the issue directly. The user would then make a judgement according to the possible issues that may arise, based on the present threat that could either; a) disable the UAV or b) compromise the UAV.

In the situation that the UAV is shot down, it would “deploy a protective device such as an airbag, foam, parachute, bumper, and so forth, or the UAV may initiate a mode such as configuring autorotation of one or more rotors in response to the determination that the UAV is compromised.”

“In another example, if a malicious person attempts to gain control of the UAV, the compromise may be detected, and the UAV may enter a fail-safe mode in which the UAV returns to base or lands on the ground. The countermeasures may reduce the adverse consequences associated with the compromise.”

Many other scenarios similar to the ones mentioned above are also listed within the patent but this is, after all, only a patent. It will be interesting to see what approach Amazon takes when ensuring the security of its drones. However. with Amazon’s delivery drones hitting the skies so soon, it will only be a matter of time before we see what security procedures are in place.

EDITORS NOTE: What we’re starting to see now is a bit of a metamorphosis in drone security landscape. The focus as of late has been the deterrence of malicious drones from airports, prisons, and private property. However, the commercialism of drones is quickly being realized by that of business, something which may soon see the sector overtake that of commercial drone sales for fun and private use. So our venn diagram quickly merges, with systems being able to stop drones and drone systems protecting themselves from harm.

In the above example, Amazon uses a ‘mesh network’ or grid of sorts, in combination with secondary drones to keep a heartbeat-like status on each drone. How fascinating would it be to see a drone with protection mechanisms go up against a drone defense system! I’m sure we would learn a lot. Evasive drone-protection techniques might see more rigid developments in technologies such as DroneShield’s DroneGun, and possibly their own drone-detection systems adapting to drone-protection-detection!

While an All-in-One solution for protecting assets from drones, drones from drones and drones from assets is likely something that drone defense companies might start looking at, it’s also difficult to know whether this drone-protection technology (e.g. patents) will become a closely guarded secret by companies such as Amazon.