Fortem vs. Echodyne? Super Bowl could host battle of drone-seeking radar systems

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DroneHunter at work
A video view from Fortem Technologies’ DroneHunter aircraft shows the targeting of an unauthorized drone. (Fortem / Today Show)

Fortem Technologies, a Utah-based venture that makes drones as well as radar detection systems, wants to be in on a drone-hunting test to be conducted during Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The test could turn into a high-tech matchup that parallels the football face-off between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

Earlier this week, it came to light that Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne was seeking the Federal Communications Commission’s approval to have its drone-detecting radar system used in an experiment that’s to be conducted during the Super Bowl, in collaboration with an unnamed partner. A report written by Mark Harris for The Guardian said the test would be conducted under the direction of the FBI.

Harris followed up on that report today, noting in a tweet that Fortem has also applied for special temporary authority from the FCC — not only for its TrueView radar system, but also for its DroneHunter aircraft, which is equipped with a net-firing gun that’s designed to bring down drones.

In the application, Fortem said the experiment would test the “ability to detect, track and classify other drones in the sky near the Super Bowl.”

“If illegally flown, we will also request permission from the correct government entity to have DroneHunter take off and capture with its net gun and tethering system,” Fortem said in its application.

Adam Robertson, the company’s chief technology officer, confirmed that Fortem is seeking approval from the FCC as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, which issues regulations and licenses related to drone operations.

“Fortem has applied for and received FCC licenses to use TrueView radar and DroneHunter technology at numerous locations,” Robertson explained in an email sent to GeekWire. “To meet the high level of requests from customers, Fortem regularly has applications for a number of applications for additional locations in process with the FAA, including for the location of the upcoming Super Bowl.”

 

Robertson highlighted Fortem’s differentiators in the contest, including its scalable SkyDome technology for digitizing and monitoring airspace — as well as its DroneHunter technology for countering an unmanned aerial system, or UAS, that is flying in an off-limits area.

Such counter-drone measures could have come in handy during a string of airport drone disruptions that were reported in Britain, New Jersey and Israel over the past couple of months.

For what it’s worth, the FAA has designated the area within a 34.5-mile radius of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium a “no-drone zone” during the Super Bowl, with the threat of tough civil and criminal penalties for those who disobey. Today the FBI reported that six drones were confiscated for violating flight restrictions.

“Fortem specializes not only in drone detection, but adds the ability to stop it — complete counter UAS capabilities,” Robertson wrote in the email sent to GeekWire. “If you can detect, but not mitigate the drone, what’s the use? DroneHunter autonomously tracks, pursues and safely captures nefarious drones — shooting them with a net and towing them away without collateral damage. This is important not only for the Super Bowl, but stadiums (events, airports, etc) at large.”

Both Fortem and Echodyne have high-profile financial backers: In 2017, Echodyne raised $29 million for its metamaterials-based, drone-sized detect-and-avoid radar system in a Series B funding round that included investments by Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Last year, Fortem raised $15 million in a Series A round with participation by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, the aerospace giant’s investment arm.

Both companies are also being circumspect about the Super Bowl experiment, presumably because law enforcement agencies and federal regulators are involved. Further information may become available after the football contest is finished, but considering the security concerns, there’s a chance we may never get the complete play-by-play from the drone-detecting contest.



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