Operation Drone Detection

by Cynndie Hoff

In a classic 1976 Saturday Night Live skit, actor Dan Aykroyd plays a shady toy manufacturer who sells unsafe, weaponized toys. That skit drew laughs for its ridiculous overreach, but four decades later, the same material offers a sobering reminder that some of today’s toys come with real-life dangerous applications. Case in point: drones. These remotely controlled flying machines, intended to provide hours of entertainment for private citizens, have been commandeered by nefarious individuals and terror groups seeking stealthy ways to surveil and attack their enemies, as well as infrastructures and innocent civilians. Such threats prompted APU faculty Enson Chang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, and Rick Sturdivant, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Computer Science, and undergraduate students Bryce Quilici ’20 and Erich Patigler ’18, to conduct research into methods of detecting drones so that they can be destroyed before they reach their targets.

STEM faculty and students are exploring affordable radar systems and advanced computing algorithms called inverse synthetic aperture radar (iSAR) that can generate radar images for detection and identification of drones. The teams conducted experiments and numerical analyses in summer 2017 and submitted their research for peer review which IEEE Radio and Wireless Week, an international symposium, accepted. The published research has been assigned a DOI number and will be archived on the IEEE Xplore website.

Undergraduate students’ engagement in this level of research distinguishes them from their peers when they apply for graduate schools and enter the marketplace. These invaluable opportunities stem from the scholarship and commitment of APU’s faculty members like Sturdivant, who recently conducted research on a system of systems (SoS) method for drone detection at airports. His design uses existing sensors at airports along with selected additional sensors to add necessary capability. This means that an affordable solution can be developed to protect against the drone threat. His peer-reviewed research was published in the IEEE Access journal and won an award for its accompanying multimedia video.

As Sturdivant, his colleagues, and their students continue to explore real-world problems and solutions for private industry and U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer living in Walnut, California. [email protected]

Originally published in the Spring '18 issue of APU Life. View all issues.