Vancouver-based SkyCope bills itself as having “the world’s smallest and most powerful AI supercomputer UAV detection system.” And there’s no doubt – what it does is quite impressive.
With the proliferation of drones, a growing number of people have legitimate reasons to want to detect and track devices that might be up to no good. Drones have been used, for example, to smuggle drugs and other contraband into prisons. There are also secure facilities like nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructures where drone detection is critical. Plus, of course, there are airports.
At the CANSEC conference in Ottawa – Canada’s largest security and defense trade show – a Canadian company named SkyCope is gaining interest with its drone detection system. We sat down with Co-CEO Hamid Boostanimehr to learn more about the company and its key product.
The core of the system is the SkyEye. You can set it up quickly, and it begins analyzing the countless radio signals that are passing through the air: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, commercial radio signals, and more. If there’s a drone in range (and the system has detected from as far as 23 kilometers), AI built into the platform starts looking for a match. A drone library of the unique RF signatures of more than 220 different models of drones is built into SkyEye. And if it finds a match – the person monitoring SkyEye’s output gets a hit.
“We detect the radio links between the drone and controller. From that, we get information about the drone. We can detect 220+ different drone models in our library,” explained Boostanimehr.
And that’s not all. The company has worked to ensure that its system will still pick up even unfamiliar drones.
“Over time, we realized that our library has limitations: There are older legacy drones, brand new drones… For that, we developed AI machine learning to detect drones that are outside our library. We consider ourselves pioneers in combining AI and radio frequencies and bringing it to the anti-drone industry.”
For example, the SkyCope system can even detect a custom-built machine like this.
The question arises: What makes this system better than some of the others on the market? According toBoostanimehr, it’s all about the AI. The company’s SkyCore computer (which lives inside that SkyEye dome) is really good at sorting through the maze of signals and zeroing in on the ones that matter – while dismissing those that don’t.
“The difference between this kind of AI and the traditional technologies is that such technologies have a lot of false alarms,” he says. “And when the environment is polluted with signals, they cannot separate the drone signals from the background signals. Our AI and detection system, it’s not only detecting drones, it’s detecting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Smart City sensors or transmitters, IoT devices. We are detecting this and classifying them in the background as well, so we can separate the drone signals out.”
SkyCope has a lot of clients spread across multiple sectors. But, most broadly, there are clients from the Civil and Defense side of things. Police departments, prisons, military, border protection – Hamid said the list goes on. Interestingly, SkyCope has also sold its system to end-users who already own DJI’s Aeroscope system. That system, which does a great job of detecting DJI products, doesn’t do a great job with drones from outside its own ecosystem. Plus, DJI drones can be spoofed to show an incorrect location. Boostanimehr said SkyCope isn’t fooled by that.
What’s more, the word is out among those who use drones for illicit purposes that DJI products can be detected quite easily with the Aeroscope system. As a result, criminals have been moving away from DJI and using other brands or even home-built drones to try to evade standard drone detection systems.
“We have dozens of our systems deployed next to Aeroscope and also to confirm DJI detections if they are spoofed.”
There are a growing number of drone detection companies. And, to be honest, we can’t keep track of them all. But we’re impressed with what SkyCope has achieved and by the thinking that’s gone into engineering this solution. Boostanimehr is focused on keeping the SkyEye ahead of the pack with continuous tweaks to its AI and machine learning capabilities.
SkyCope did not reveal the cost of its systems – partly because the price varies depending on how many SkyEyes are deployed and networked. But he did say the system has the lowest cost-to-performance ratio on the market.