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Christopher Luebke

Professor McGriff

Composition 1102

4 August 2018

Implementing Autonomous Drone Technology

Technology is an ever changing and expanding commodity. In only a few centuries

humanity has made technological advances in nearly every field imaginable. Now, a new, yet at

the same time old, technology is being reimagined. Many of us are already familiar with drones.

Most imagine a small aircraft that many people fly for fun or leisure. Others think of the larger

military crafts used to perform various reconnaissance or strike missions. The difference between

these drones and the newly reimagined crafts being studied is that they are controlled by a

person. Autonomous drone networks have had a spark of interest in recent times. The

possibilities of what could be accomplished could be endless if applied correctly. I find the idea

of quadcopters being used for remedial tasks quite fascinating, however, I am also concerned

about how these UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) would come to be as they would require an

air trafficking code of their own, an effective and broad means of communication and security,

as well as self-awareness or a failsafe system in case something were to go astray.

Starting with air trafficking I happened across a recent article about the Federal Aviation

Administration (FAA). In this article, titled “Safely Adding Drones to US Airspace Is a

Formidable Challenge”, a statement about Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) reads as follows

“. . . significant technological barriers remain…In addition, FAA has not yet achieved consensus

on regulatory standards for integrating UAS. . . the Agency has yet to develop standardized air
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traffic control (ATC) procedures specific to the unique characteristics of UAS.” (2-3). What this

informs us is that due to our current level of technology and lack of a developed and working

system we cannot implement drone traffic into preexisting standards because of their complex

nature. Before we can even hope to have little mechanical delivery bots we must first design a

safe way for them to operate. Some of the details that would need to be addressed in these

operating standards include a system hierarchy and designated altitudes for specific roles. Based

on what job a drone has dictates the order in which they operate and at what level. Furthermore,

based off the same article there has not been any training or qualification standards established to

ensure adequate operation of these crafts in a high traffic situation. These requirements would

most likely contain the ability to successfully maintain flight paths and make adjustments during

system operation among many other traits. Currently, according to “Safely Adding Drones to US

Airspace Is a Formidable Challenge” permission to use UAVs for a task require an application to

be sent in and reviewed before being approved by the FAA to ensure safety. These cases usually

involve a limited working area and with man-controlled technology instead of an autonomous

system. They are also very limited and closely monitored as any outcome could lead to further

development and testing for the FAA. In all, regulations and procedures have not been

established for drone trafficking due to the lack of capability and compatibility in the technology

involved and with the current standards we have in place, this does not include any special

weather or security risks a network of this scale would include.

As we know, a network is a web of computers that are all connected and able to

communicate with each other. While this system if very useful and productive there are those out

in the world that attempt to take advantage of these systems. Therefore, they must be protected to

prevent those with ill intent from corrupting or stealing information that may be stored on any of
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the computers connected in a single network. A drone network would face all the potential

threats that any other network would face only with a significant disadvantage; these drones

would be easy to target because they would be out in the open instead of in a secure location and

protected by a centralized system. In the text "Security in Software-Defined Networking: Threats

and Countermeasures," By Zhaogang Shu, the basic concepts of a computer network are

explained along with the threats they face and the countermeasures that have been put into effect

to attempt to prevent attacks. That being said, these countermeasures don’t always work as we

see in today’s society whenever an organization is breached. This type of threat is called hacking

and it is only one of many cyber threats that networks face. With these flying network nodes

open to the public anyone could target a single drone and gain access to the entire network and

any information on it and with this being a newer system it is more likely to have many

vulnerabilities. Types of information that could be stolen include personal information such as

names, phone numbers, addresses, and even credit card numbers if the asset targeted belongs to a

commercial business.

Alternatively, instead of stealing information, a hacker could hijack control over the

network, essentially turning it into his own flying armada. While yes, they would be easy enough

to destroy that would lead to financial loses and destruction of stolen property. Therefore, the

means of neutralizing these rouge robots, without destroying them, would need to be developed.

In Sean Kerner’s “Defending against Drone Incursions Isn't Easy, Black Hat Session Reveals,” a

few methods of disabling a drone are explored such as a capture net, jammers, and override

signals. The main issue of these methods is that they aren’t easily accessible and don’t always

work. Kerner quotes Francis Brown stating, “Most jamming products are not even allowed to be

sold in the U.S., It's illegal to jam cellphone signals and GPS in the U.S. and that's what those
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products try to do"(qtd. Kerner,1). In other words, while we have the technology to make it

possible access to this equipment could cause more harm than good. So, while civilians would

not have access to effective countermeasures maybe the police force could. Though that would

mean every unit would have to undergo specialized training for case-by-case situations and the

use of equipment. I could go on about the many different types of threats that a network faces

and what we currently use to counter these issues, but the point still remains that if even one of

these countermeasures fail it could spell disaster. There is also the concern for actual physical

assaults on the fragile and expensive flying machines themselves.

Due to their lightweight structure and delicate flight controls drones can easily be

knocked out of the sky by things as simple as a pellet gun. While a beefier drone might stand a

chance of shrugging off an air propelled projectile, their smaller versions that carry delicate

items aren’t as lucky. The small components used to make drones are very valuable and fragile,

which gives thieves incentive to attack them for parts. If the targeted asset is being used as a

carrier then any items it has could also be taken. As mentioned before, a possible means of

countermeasure would be sending an override signal but Brown also states “…only at the low

end of the spectrum… If you're just controlling your drone over WiFi, then there are things you

can do to interfere with those drones pretty easily, [b]ut on the high-end drones, like the Danger

Drone that is controlled over a cellular connection, those same techniques won't work.” (1)

Basically, Brown is saying that while countering an attack on a WiFi connection is easy it isn’t

that simple for quadcopters connected by cellular signals. Which brings me to my next topic, the

method of communication for a drone network.

With such an elaborate and broad network, it would need a reliable means of

communication for large areas. WiFi has already been proven to be too vulnerable to attack
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which leaves one option, cellular networks. Adam Stone’s writing “Charting a Course to 5G”

introduces a new development in technology that will hopefully provide a solution to the issue of

communication, though not without it’s drawbacks. With a 5G network the goal is to establish a

more reliable and faster means of communication among devices. Stone says that “… [the]

signal would travel across hundreds or thousands of small cells, often attached to telephone poles

and light posts, rather than relying on dozens of big cell towers.” What this means is that instead

of only a few towers offering wider coverage with possible dead zones, numerous devices would

be installed over a large tight knit area to provide absolute high-speed coverage. Although I grant

that this technology is very useful and would solve many issues it would also be very costly and

take a lot of time to bring it online.

Of course, IT professionals will have concerns over a networking system such as whether

or not the technology in use now is compatible with the new 5G wavelengths or if mobile

carriers will support the development as a part of their services, another concern being the cost to

implement the new system. Here, Stone mentions that several studies have estimated a cost of

$200 billion dollars in upgrades per year. In addition, he includes $130 billion in fiber-optics

required to support the network. Stone goes on to mention that there are also various permits and

fees required to install the cells themselves. Considering the estimates, it’s safe to say that

advancing our telecommunication network is going to come with a steep price-tag, and this is

only the beginning on the road to autonomous UAVs. Thankfully, Stone also reveals that AT&T

has stepped up to attempt a small installation in Dallas and Waco, Texas by partnering with

Verizon, Mobilitie, and MCI Telecom. The outcome of this attempt will likely shape the

development of future projects. While this is a very important first step there are still many other

questions and issues about the integration of 5G networks.

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If the installation of 5G networks proves to be successful, then this opens the door for

many concerns involving being able to control such a large network of mobile machines. Dmitri

Solomitckii hypothesizes that should 5G networks be fruitful their millimeter-wave technology

could be capable of detecting, tracking, and disarming aerial threats. It can be inferred that the

FAA may take this into account after more information is made available to develop a means of

trafficking. I concede that 5G networks will most likely become a norm one day, though I insist

it will not be for years to come and is not guaranteed to work as intended right away. There will

be technical issues that need to be addressed as with all new technology. Just like with drones,

5G has many possibilities but first it needs to lay out its groundwork. Drone networks will likely

be on the back-burner after 5G networks are launched so that more import infrastructures can be

prioritized. Technological components and capabilities for a large number of essential devices

will need to be designed for current models or entirely new models will need to be developed. In

summary, there is still a long way to go before anything can be determined.

As for the network itself, if it were to eventually provide adequate operation, the

programming/coding or instructions of these vehicles would need to be refined. According to

Laura Cox, the writer of “Coming to a City Near You,” Sweden has established a small

autonomous drone network using a station system. It is stated in Laura’s text that packages of

around two kilograms can be delivered about twenty kilometers. According to Laura this system

is being used mostly for transportation of blood samples from hospitals to labs but services can

supposedly be ordered through an app. While this system does work it has its own flaws,

specifically the terminals themselves. The problem here is that people can target these stations or

the asset itself in mid-transit. It would not be difficult for someone to wait until the target takes

off, follow it, knock it out of the air and steal its package. This could lead to many issues
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depending on the package, especially if larger issues were to come out. A public station would be

a goldmine for thieves unless guarded. It’s a rather simple system with preprogrammed routes

integrated into the drone but that makes it predictable. In addition, these airborne machines

would need a way to detect each other while in transit. Currently some models have some sort of

proximity sensor, but even then, crashes are common. As of right now there is no way for one

object to detect another’s position in the air around it. We can receive GPS signals and track its

location but that’s about it. New algorithms must be designed in order to be able to avoid

collisions while in flight, these issues are less common now because most drones are controlled

by a person that can avoid collisions manually. The only other option would be a routing system

with designated flight paths for a specific task that as mentioned before has not been developed.

Lastly there are the classic logical and system errors.

Machines do not think like humans, you could give a machine a set of instructions, but

the machine may not understand them or receive them at all. In Kyle Wesson and Todd

Humphreys excerpt “Hacking Drones,” a NAVY helicopter drone called the “MQ-8B Fire

Scout” lost connection to its host and failed to perform pre-programmed instructions that would

have landed it safely. Thankfully, it only drifted in the sky instead of plummeting to the ground.

Examples like this however just prove how uncertain technology can be. For a system as

complex as an autonomous drone network to work would require flawless execution. In fact, this

case can be supported even further through Evsen Yanmaz’s publication "Drone networks:

Communications, coordination, and sensing,” in which a very extensive study was performed

where multiple quadcopters participated in autonomously performing an imaging task for job

sites. In this study they underwent a multistep process to develop a working system incorporating

a highly detailed operation design using multiple UAVs and ground stations. Multiple tests
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depicting actual jobs were performed and ultimately Yanmaz and his crew concluded that in

order for this type of technology to be more efficient there would need to be improvements to

sensing, coordination, and communication. This falls directly in line with my arguments saying

that in order for this system to work that every flying quadcopter would need to be able to detect

each other in the air, flight designs would need to be established to work together, and the ability

to receive commands more efficiently are a must. A list of conflicts the team established have

also been provided and explained in detail why each one causes an issue. Overall, there is just

too little material to work with at the time to even begin an attempt of autonomous drones.

Throughout this research I was given the opportunity to explore a subject I’ve always

been curious about. I’ve loved technology ever since I was a child so seeing the interest in

autonomous robotics being introduced to actual planning and testing brings me great joy.

Personally, I would love for this technology to flourish, but I am not so careless as to think it

won’t have its drawbacks. However, as unfortunate as it may be, the era of robotics will need to

wait just a bit longer. Until reliable coordination and administration can be established along

with proper security and protocols and a means to effectively instruct numerous assets, we

cannot safely introduce autonomous aerial assistance to any field. So, for now we will continue

to make use of what we can by implementing man-controlled drones to manually complete

certain tasks, until the day when that technology advances to within the realm of capability. In

time there is no limit as to what can be done, my only hope is that humanity will be ready for it

when it comes. Perhaps collaboration with like minded countries will help spur faster and more

reliable development. Only time will tell what the future holds.
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Works Cited

Cox, Laura. "Autonomous Drone Networks.” D/SRUPTION, 03 Oct. 2017,

disruptionhub.com/autonomous-drone-networks/. Accessed 23 Jul. 2018. Web.

Kerner, Sean Michael. "Defending against Drone Incursions Isn't Easy, Black Hat Session

Reveals." Eweek, 26 July 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,


&AN=124387691&site=ehost-live. Accessed 14 Jul. 2018. Web.

“Safely Adding Drones to US Airspace Is a Formidable Challenge.” Drones, edited by Tamara

Thompson, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Current Controversies. Opposing Viewpoints in



&it=r&asid=a1935d6e. Accessed 10 Jul. 2018. Web.

Shu, Zhaogang, et al. "Security in Software-Defined Networking: Threats and

Countermeasures." Mobile Networks & Applications, vol. 21, no. 5, Oct. 2016, pp. 764-

776. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11036-016-0676-x. Accessed 14 Jul 2018

Stone, Adam "Charting a Course to 5G" Government Technology, vol. 31, no. 5, Jul. 2018, pp.

19-22. www.govtech.com/products/Charting-a-Course-to-5G.html. Accessed 20 Jul.

2018. Web.

Wesson, Kyle and Humphreys, Todd. "Hacking Drones." Scientific American, vol. 309, no. 5,

Nov. 2013, pp. 55-59. EBSCOdb23.


=91442504&site=ehost-live. Accessed 10 Jul. 2018. Web.

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Yanmaz, Evsen, et al. "Drone networks: Communications, coordination, and sensing." Ad Hoc

Networks, vol. 68, Jan. 2018, pp. 1-15. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.adhoc.2017.09.001,

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1570870517301671. Accessed 23 Jul. 2018.