Crash at White House highlights security concerns over UAV drones

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Picture: The South Lawn of the White House, Washington, DC

The crash of a recreational unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the White House in Washington, DC, has highlighted security concerns over the unrestricted use of so-called drones.

The quadcopter device – a DJI Phantom equipped with a video camera – crashed on the South Lawn of the White House around 3am Monday. It triggered a temporary lockdown of the executive mansion occupied by the President and his family.

The President and First Lady were not at home at the time of the incident and the US Secret Service is not treating it as a terrorist attack. A man claiming to be the owner of the quadcopter is understood to have called the Secret Service and said he never intended for the device to fly into the White House grounds.

Just four days prior to the security breach, lawmakers had identified drones as a possible security issue for the White House and other government buildings and admitted that there was little they could do with current technology to counter this threat.

Most drones are too small to appear on radar which poses a challenge for designing a detection system. Many models can be piloted from a distance and use GPS to auto-navigate. Live video feeds can be sent back to operators, enabling them to guide drones with considerable accuracy.

The fact that the drone could fly at a low level over the fence and across the grounds without being detected is a major concern, as is the fact that some commercially available drones can carry payloads in excess of 15kg.

 

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