May 6, 2024

Above All Else: How Axon and Dedrone are Revolutionizing Drone Solutions to Protect More Lives in More Places

Today marks an exciting milestone as Axon announces a definitive agreement to acquire Dedrone, the global leader in airspace security. Read on for how, together, we can deliver more powerful end-to-end solutions to protect against rising drone threats and advance the use drones as first responders (DFR).

1.3 million people pass through the gates of the Tulsa State Fair in Oklahoma every year. Brilliant lights, joyful laughter and the sweet smell of funnel cakes promise to deliver a fun-filled night. As families and friends shuffle through the ticket stands, they look up and see the curve of the Ferris Wheel touching the sky, beckoning for the first ride.

Charged with protecting the safety and enjoyment of the public at the event, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office sees a very different scene each night. A purse hanging lazily from a woman’s arm, a couple fighting behind a ride, a child wandering too far from her parents. When the officers look up, they see past the Ferris Wheel to a new potential threat — one they only recently began to consider.

"Now that we have Dedrone on site here, we are seeing drones everywhere. The sheer volume is quite alarming," said Daniel Lutz, IT Director at Tulsa State Police. "The risk that drones play from a security perspective is pretty impressive. Airspace deconfliction issues where they might crash into each other. Payload issues. People on the ground don’t see that coming, and something falls from the sky 200 feet above them, it could cause serious injury or worse."

Recognizing the need to protect against the threat of unauthorized drones — and at the same time scale the ability of authorized drones to better support first responders — Axon has joined forces with Dedrone to accelerate the use of drone defense and DFR technologies as a force for good for public safety. As Axon Founder and CEO Rick Smith said, “Together, we can further our mission to Protect Life by enabling the good drones to fly and ensuring the bad ones don’t."

Drone Defense: Protecting life means protecting our airspace

To the layperson, most drones are harmless toys, holiday gifts given to hobbyists to capture videos both memorable and mundane. To public safety, however, drones present an increasingly common danger — with rising reports of unexpected collisions and crashes that lead to injuries below, criminal behavior such as corporate espionage and illicit items being delivered over prison walls, or just general uncertainty about a drone’s intent and therefore disruption of normal operations, such as in the airline industry. There has also been an increase in high-profile incidents involving drones in restricted airspace, including a recent F-16 Air Force fighter pilot colliding with a drone over Goldwater Range — just one of the 22 similar incidents they saw from October 2022 to June 2023. And, of course, more urgent threats are also emerging with growing global conflicts around the world.

As unauthorized drone activity increases, enhanced airspace awareness and counter-drone technology have become essential to public safety and national security. Dedrone’s smart airspace security solution is the world's most trusted drone defense platform, leveraging cutting-edge counter-drone technology that provides a new layer of protection against these threats.

Using proprietary AI/ML-driven algorithms that leverage machine learning techniques including behavior model filters, neural networks and imagery generated from over 18 million images, Dedrone is able to rapidly detect, track, identify and, where permitted, mitigate drones and locate their pilots — who, as the operators, are the true threat. AI plays a critical role in Dedrone technology by working autonomously to deliver a prioritized threat queue and virtually eliminate false positives. And their drone defense solutions range in scope and scale, from protection for fixed sites like stadiums to entire city-wide counter-drone systems, as well as rapid set-up/tear-down expeditionary kits.

Recognizing the growing threat of drones at the Tulsa State Fair, law enforcement deploys DedroneRapidResponse, a turn-key multi-layered mobile drone detection unit. Set up is complete in minutes and alerts are issued immediately — as soon as a drone controller is turned on within the determined range — allowing police to act immediately to keep the skies and rides safe.

Watch the video to learn how Dedrone helps keep the public safe from drone threats at the Tulsa State Fair.

The same scenario is playing out across the country, where agencies and organizations are turning to counter-drone technology for stronger safety and security — such as ConEdison monitoring the utility infrastructure of New York City, the South Carolina Department of Corrections reducing criminal activity within prison facilities, and NASCAR racetracks protecting the physical safety of spectators, athletes and staff.

But increasing drone threats aren’t just a problem in the United States. Dedrone currently helps protect more than 800 sites across 31 countries and is in active use by five of the G-7 nations through their governments.

Like many other countries, Latvia has a burgeoning community of drone enthusiasts with approximately 6,000 registered pilots, a number that jumped more than 60% in just one year. However, there are even more unlicensed pilots, presenting a real challenge with drones and the risks they present to crowded areas and critical infrastructure. Dedrone solutions “make it possible to determine the height, route and, most importantly, the location of a drone’s remote pilot, which is essential for detecting any potential law-breaking,” said State Police of Latvia representative Māris Vitkovsk, who is responsible for Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) and air navigation. “We [...] use Dedrone to ensure public safety, including during public events, in order to prevent violations”

And after the Gatwick Airport shutdown in 2018, Newcastle International Airport in the UK — where nearly 5 million passengers passed through in 2019 alone — “understood that unauthorized drones were an eventuality that we needed to plan for,” said Chief Operating Officer Richard knight. “With Dedrone, Newcastle Airport can be alerted of any impending drone incursions [and] protect passengers and operations from drone-based disruptions.”

Drone as First Responder (DFR): Seconds and situational awareness save lives

But not all drones are “bad” drones. And in fact, many public safety agencies are realizing the power of drones as a means of responding more swiftly and effectively to critical incidents — an emerging public safety approach known as drone as first responder, or DFR.

Law enforcement and other public safety agencies today are grappling with widespread staffing shortages. According to reporting by CNN, these shortages have led to “longer wait times for calls for service, fewer crimes solved and cleared, and on-duty officers who are burned out and overworked, threatening the quality of life in our communities.” As protecting communities is becoming a taller order every day for public safety officials, they are calling for innovative solutions to help solve these challenges.

For many departments, early DFR programs are showing tremendous value and offering a glimpse into what the future of public safety holds. With DFR, drones are deployed to an emergency in advance of first responders, enhancing situational awareness to improve response strategies, optimizing the allocation of already limited resources, and reducing the risk of harm to first responders and communities.

Today, most agencies employing DFR use strategically stationed drones plus remote operations. However, requirements issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which mandate the presence of human visual observers (VO) to ensure each drone remains in direct line of sight, have hindered the use of DFR at scale. As a result, drone operators must still remain relatively close to the scene, often stationed on rooftops, and primarily operate in clear, daytime conditions.

But the same technology that Dedrone has designed to defend against drone threats is the same technology that can help us overcome these limitations, enabling public safety agencies to conduct DFR operations safely and efficiently Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) without human VOs. In this new era of BVLOS, a remote pilot in command can operate the drone, freeing up first responders to address other situations and overcoming other barriers such as inclement weather and night-time conditions — ultimately unlocking the benefits of DFR to a more significant number of use cases and communities.

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office in Michigan is now piloting DFR using Axon Air powered by DroneSense coupled with a new solution from Dedrone, DedroneBeyond, that enables agencies to operate drones BVLOS. They have found that drones can get to a scene within 3 minutes, notably faster than the average call time, and 65% of calls are being responded to by DFR first, before requiring the need for ground units. This is critical because as we know in public safety: saving seconds saves lives.

“Embracing innovation is at the core of our mission to enhance public safety. Our partnership with Dedrone and Axon Air on the evaluation of the DedroneBeyond solution represents a crucial step towards strengthening our DFR program,” said Michael J. Bouchard, Sheriff, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan. “This collaboration opens the door to exploring BVLOS operations, offering the potential to transform the way we respond to emergencies and keep our community safe.”

The ultimate goal: Protecting more people in more places

Operational efficiency means nothing if it doesn’t result in better outcomes, and the ability for public safety agencies to keep community members and officers safer. Whether it’s at state fairs, stadiums, airports or dense urban areas and beyond, people going about their lives deserve to do so without fear of being harmed, even accidentally. The combination of preventive counter-drone strategies and the rapid-response capabilities of DFR offer a powerful new layer of protection.

With many agencies strapped for resources, DFR especially can act as a force multiplier, so that agencies can make the most of their first responders while still meeting the expectations of the communities they serve. It also protects officers themselves; with drones potentially acting as the first set of eyes on a dangerous situation like a conflict involving a firearm, command staff can operate with more information and determine what approach can minimize tragic results.

In 2022, Axon announced our moonshot goal to cut gun-related deaths between police and the public in half by 2033. No single entity or technology can accomplish this alone, but the addition of Dedrone to the Axon ecosystem takes us one step closer to achieving that important goal, together.

With smart technology and reasonable policies leading the way, we can move beyond today’s limitations to incorporate drone solutions to help improve public safety and national security. And when both counter-drone and DFR programs are deployed as part of an integrated real-time operations (RTO) network of connected sensors and software, we can greatly strengthen our ability to help customers safeguard their communities, improve response to critical incidents and protect even more lives in more places — revolutionizing the way public safety operates tomorrow.