Game of Drones

Air­borne sur­veil­lance drones long ago moved from the realm of sci-fi into the real world, and they’re be­com­ing more es­sen­tial than ever, Jaz Banga tells Mar­i­anna Cerini

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

nce con­fined to mil­i­tary use, un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles have en­tered our ev­ery­day lives over the past decade. They are used in var­i­ous com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions, such as map­mak­ing and motion pic­tures, as well as in recre­ational pur­suits. But what hap­pens when and if they’re mis­used? Most im­por­tantly, how do you stop a tres­pass­ing drone? Cal­i­for­nia-based Airspace Sys­tems aims to pro­vide an an­swer to that. Co-founder and CEO Jaz Banga ex­plains how. A hint: it in­volves more drones. What does Airspace Sys­tems do? We’re lead­ing the devel­op­ment of aerial se­cu­rity sys­tems for en­ter­prises, which in nor­mal lan­guage means we build drones that can in­ter­cept rogue drones at high speed and carry them away to de­stroy if nec­es­sary. An anti-drone drone, ba­si­cally.

How do you do that? We’ve de­vel­oped pur­pose-built soft­ware and hard­ware to train our good-guy drone—we call it the In­ter­cep­tor—to de­tect en­emy drones and pre­dict their bear­ings. It re­quires physics, a lot of engi­neer­ing and com­puter vision. The hard­est part, once we first built the In­ter­cep­tor, was to de­vise a way through which it could neu­tralise its prey. Drones can be in­cred­i­bly heavy, so tak­ing them down on the spot wouldn’t have worked, as you can’t pre­dict where or who they may fall on. Shoot­ing them isn’t an op­tion ei­ther; you don’t know what they might carry. We worked on at least 100 pro­to­types be­fore we found the so­lu­tion—cap­ture them. The In­ter­cep­tor fires a Kevlar net onto its tar­get, en­tan­gles it and takes it to a safe space.

What prompted you to start the com­pany? I’ve tin­kered with drones since my first years in the [Sil­i­con] Val­ley. I find them fas­ci­nat­ing. Start­ing Airspace was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from what’s essen­tially been a hobby for a while. It also stemmed from a very per­sonal con­cern about the way pri­vacy and se­cu­rity are chang­ing be­cause of these fly­ing ma­chines. Drones are in­cred­i­bly ap­peal­ing for their sim­plic­ity— you open the box and they’re good to fly within an hour—and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties. But they can also be threat­en­ing. As much as I hate to think about it, they can be used for harm and ter­ror. We need to be able to deal with that. Airspace wants to of­fer a way to do so.

You’ve raised US$8 mil­lion from in­vestors such as Ster­ling.vc, whose owner controls the New York Mets. Are you hop­ing places like sta­di­ums will em­ploy the In­ter­cep­tor? Ab­so­lutely. Pub­lic spa­ces like air­ports and cor­po­rate of­fices are also where I see our drone be­ing put to good use. The US Army has shown in­ter­est, too—their an­tidrone tech­nol­ogy isn’t as de­vel­oped as you might think. Pri­vate busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als have started to show in­ter­est as well. I think the counter-drone mar­ket is slated to be­come as big as the drone one.

Do you see reg­u­la­tions around the use of drones chang­ing in the fu­ture? They have to. I sit on the board of the Drone Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee in the States, and we’re cur­rently look­ing at just that. It’s still un­charted ter­ri­tory and cer­tainly needs ad­dress­ing.

What mo­ti­vates you? I’m just into solv­ing hard prob­lems. I’ve al­ways thought that when I’m 70 I’d like to look back and say, ‘I brought some real change to this sec­tor’ or ‘I re­ally con­trib­uted to im­prov­ing that is­sue.’ I hope I’m do­ing that with my drones.

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