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DARPA Launches 'Aerial Dragnet' Program To Monitor Drone Traffic In Cities

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced an "Aerial Dragnet" program to combat potential threats posed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), more commonly known as drones.

Air traffic in the United States is tightly monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); however, the use of drones in the country is still highly unregulated. The prices of drones have been reducing and their easy availability is increasing the popularity of these aircraft.

Experts believe that drones can pose security threats especially to urban regions. A number of sophisticated drones are taking to the skies each day but there are no systems in place to keep track of these drones.

To address the issue, DARPA is starting the Aerial Dragnet program, which will track UAVs at low altitude.

"Commercial websites currently exist that display in real time the tracks of relatively high and fast aircraft-from small general aviation planes to large airliners-all overlaid on geographical maps as they fly around the country and the world," says Jeff Krolik, program manager at DARPA. "We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments."

The program will include a system of surveillance nodes, which will track low-flying and slow drones. These nodes can be drones or fixed instruments that could cover large areas in urban environments.

At present there are systems that are able to track UAVs in open and large areas, but these systems need to be in the line of sight, which can be difficult to operate in cities with tall buildings. DARPA wants a UAV tracking system that does not require a clear line of sight.

DARPA does not have any plans on how to implement the dragnet. However, the agency is considering proposals from teams that have expertise in signal processing and sensors.

The Aerial Dragnet will enable DARPA to keep track of all UAVs, especially the unknown ones, on a map. The DARPA announcement says that although the Aerial Dragnet program is aimed at protecting military troops deployed overseas, the system may ultimately have civilian application for protecting metropolitan areas in the United States.

DARPA is hosting a Proposers Day on Sept. 26. Parties that are interested in getting the contract are required to submit their proposals by Nov. 12.

It remains to be seen how swiftly DARPA is able to find a solution and implement a UAV tracking system as part of the Aerial Dragnet program.

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