‘Robotic falcon’ can capture, retrieve renegade drones

January 11, 2016

Mo Rastgaar’s drone catcher speeds toward a rogue drone. (credit: Michigan Technological University)

Mo Rastgaar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University, and his team have developed a drone catcher that can pursue and capture rogue drones that might threaten military installations, air traffic, sporting events, and even the White House — as startled Secret Service officers discovered when one crash-landed on the White House lawn last January.

It’s a simple system (see video below): a launcher shoots a big net attached to a large drone by a string. After an intruding drone is spotted, the drone catcher takes up the chase and fires the net at it from a distance of up to 40 feet (perhaps more spider than falcon). Because the net is so big and can be deployed so quickly, it can overwhelm even the fastest, most maneuverable small drone, the engineers claim.

Once trapped, the net swings down below the drone catcher, which ferries its cargo to a safe location. The system can be autonomous, controlled by a ground-based human pilot, or a combination of the two.

“If the threat is a drone, you really don’t want to shoot it down — it might contain explosives and blow up, says Rastgaar. “What you want to do is catch it and get it out of there.”

Other potential applications include foiling spy drones, smugglers, and terrorists, and supporting the recent FAA announcement requiring drones to be registered.

HIRoLab | Robotic Falconry — Drone Catcher System for Removing the Intruding Drones