How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New Technologies

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Last updatedLast updated: April 29, 2021

UAVs have been around since the early to mid 20th century but recreational drones were only made available to the public in 2015. And since then, millions have been made and sold. In 2020, the FAA started allowing small drones to fly over people at night. However, this is limited only to those participating in the operation.

Nevertheless and with a worrying increase in reported cases, there are reports of drones flying over and spying on people during the day at night.

This has led to many wanting to know how to spot a drone at night and how they can deal with the situation.

Unfortunately, there are more and more frequent reports of drones flying and spying on private residences and public facilities such as airports. An illegal drone can ground the activities of an airport for several hours and in some unpleasant cases even for whole days. One such situation is the incident at Gatwick airport in 2018, which grounded the flights of tens of thousands of people.

Drones and privacy protection

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesDrones are unmanned aerial vehicles that emerged in World War II. At first, drones had military use. However, in recent years, drones have begun to be used in the civil sphere. Today, with a smaller price tag, you can acquire a drone. They’re generally used for purposes such as:

  • Safety
  • Prevention of natural disasters
  • Labor control
  • Cartography
  • Communications
  • The broadcasting of radio waves
  • Parcel or freight services

All this entails an important need for regulation since regulated airspace demands high standards of safety and control. Until recently, only safety in the use and regulation of drones was taken into account, but it is increasingly important to guarantee not only safety but also people’s privacy.

The basic devices that are part of any drone are, mainly, a GPS and a camera. Some drones can also have thermodynamic cameras, night vision cameras, WIFI and/or Bluetooth devices, 3D scanner, etc.

These devices allow the recording of images, videos, sounds, biometric data, geolocation data, and/or telecommunications data.

Personal data is all the information about an identified or identifiable natural person. Therefore, the use of drones can jeopardize the right to data protection which is a fundamental right that protects the ability of the person to decide on their personal information.

What data can a drone collect and what can it be used for?

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesAs mentioned, a drone can be used to identify or help obtain personal data, allowing a person to be identified. So it must always be borne in mind that its use directly affects people’s fundamental rights. Therefore, it is essential to comply with data protection regulations.

Drones can get images of people’s facial recognition or recognition of movement patterns, places, or objects present. This can allow to directly recognize a person or help in their identification, providing data that, together with others obtained by other means, finally allow the unequivocal identification of this.

A drone can be used to:

  • Collect images, videos, sounds of a specific person or place.
  • Observe, supervise and monitor people, territories, or processes.
  • Monitor people in their homes or workplaces.
  • Monitor industrial or agricultural infrastructure and facilities. For example, a drone can be used for roof and solar panel inspection.
  • Prevent natural disasters.
  • Observe changes in the environment and/or ecosystems.
  • Know exact geographic locations.
  • Obtain electromagnetic signals.
  • Carry out follow-ups.
  • Control movements.
  • Obtain air quality data or meteorological data.
  • Attend to people in emergencies in isolated or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Visualize or act in dangerous environments.
  • Intercept communications.
  • See through walls using heat detectors, etc.

How to tell if a drone is watching you at night?

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesThere are two ways to discovering if a drone is watching you at night. First, with your senses, and secondly with technology.

Using your sense of sight and hearing, you can watch out for buzzing anti-collision orange light flashes and buzzing sounds. These come with almost all drones.

One of the most popular models equipped with this type of light is the Lume Cube Strobe. It features anti-collision lighting and a drone strobe.

Using technology to combat technology, you can also make use of microwave sensors, motion detection cameras, radars, and apps that can detect drones.

Is it legal to drone spy?

Controlling your aircraft, taking photographs, and making videos while staying on the ground yourself; is a dream that many people are living in the dawn of the 21st century. But here, too, rules must be observed.

It is strictly forbidden to fly in and over sensitive areas. These include, for example, where the police and fire brigade work, airports, and crowds.

It is also forbidden to fly a drone that weighs more than 0.5 poundsover inhabited properties. This also applies, regardless of weight, if a drone can send, receive or record optical, acoustic, or radio signals. People’s privacy must be strictly protected even as technology continues to evolve.

For example, anyone who takes photos of people while they are in their apartments can be prosecuted.

Ways to spot a drone

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesAs earlier mentioned, you can spot a drone both by observation and with technology.

By your senses

All drones emit sound and light. You can watch out for buzzing anti-collision and navigation light flashes. The buzzing sounds from their propellers can also help you discover them. When near the drone on a silent night, you’d be able to hear the buzzing noise and discover them.

Most night flight drones have night lights so they’re easy to spot. One of the most recommended by experts for night flight is the O’woda Universal Drone. It has a night flight light and uses an LED lamps night for a safe landing.

With technology

Technically, just as drones become more and more advanced, tinier, and more powerful, at the same time the systems for their detection and their neutralization are quickly being developed.

In the civil field, there are hundreds of systems developed by many companies. There are many ways to spot a drone with technologies. These include monitoring apps, with motion-detecting cameras, microwave sensors, and radar technologies.

Radar technologies

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesMany anti-drone system manufacturers are emerging and one of them is DJI, which has created Aeroscope. Aeroscope is a kind of radar that identifies the location, the unique serial number, and possibly other information of a drone through the radio control signals that travel towards the drone.

The DJI system works with the remotely piloted aircraft produced by the Shenzen giant, but according to them also with the drones of their competitors.

Microwave sensing technologies

With the installation of fixed sensors along the perimeter or window of your property, you can also detect a drone. When a microwave sensor detects a signal, the system indicates by making some sound, depending on the type of system.

Cameras with motion sensor and night vision

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesThe best way to catch a trespassing UAV in the comfort of your home is by installing cameras that have night vision and motion sensors pre-equipped in them. The camera will be able to spot objects moving and flying nearby. However, you’ll need to install these cameras at strategic locations.

Thermal imaging sensors

Thermal imaging devices detect the heat emitted by objects. This allows drones to be tracked by their thermal footprint. However, there is a high false detection rate.

Anti-drone systems

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesAfter the Gatwick episode, Great Britain invested and put on the table several million pounds to counter a situation that in recent months has put the British police forces in check and mocked.

The anti-drone systems are based on the two fundamental principles, intercepting and understanding the position and movement of the drone and annihilating it with different means.

The analysis of the airspace to be monitored takes place with three different methods which have been explained previously:

  • Optical: These can be with the use of cameras capable of distinguishing a drone from another natural bird. This operates both day and night thanks to infrared vision.
  • Radiofrequency: These can be scanners that continuously listen to the radio spectrum typically used by drones and their respective radio controls.
  • Using a small-sized radar: These are expressly dedicated to identifying small, remotely piloted flying objects with a range of a few kilometers.

After shooting a UAV successfully, next is the blocking of the drone, i.e. the neutralization of the threat. These can take place either physically with the launch of special networks or electronically by intercepting, confusing, and blocking the communications radio between the controller and the drone in addition to the GPS signal reception.

The use of a drone jammer is forbidden for ordinary citizens all over the globe. They are specifically used by the military. Once activated, it over-modulates or emits a signal with greater power by interposing itself between the emitting source and the receiving device.

To give a practical example, imagine a conversation between two people located at point A and point B. Then, at a certain moment, is an interposing person shouting, making it impossible to hear what is said by the other interlocutor.

To avoid an autonomous and pre-programmed flight of a drone to a specific target, modern anti-drone systems equipped with jammers also block and interfere with the radio frequencies of the GPS and GLONASS signals.

At that moment, with the drone no longer hearing the commands given by the controller, could decide to return to the take-off point or land on the spot.

What you can do after finding one

How to Spot a Drone at Night with the Help of Your Senses and New TechnologiesIn the United States, drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as Unmanned Aircraft (UA) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). This protects them in two important ways:

  • It is forbidden to knock them down or physically impede them.
  • It is forbidden to obstruct the signals between the controller and the drone.

Therefore, any defense measure you take should focus on protecting your space, your data, and your physical privacy.

There are a few ways to detect a drone approach with technology, but they all have flaws. Until now, there is no 100% reliable way to catch a drone.

Geofences are one way to tackle the threat from drones. Using GPS or RFID-based software, geofences create a virtual border around a specific location. This generates a response every time an unauthorized drone enters the area. Controls connected to drones available on the market prevent them from flying into (or taking off from) geofenced areas.

Large drone manufacturers such as DJI and Parrot have installed geofences on their drones for vulnerable sites such as airports, prisons, and power plants.

However, some hackers have found a way to remove geofence software that prevents conventional drones from flying in restricted areas. Ways to hack a drone can easily be found on the Internet; the simplest way to block the geofences is to simply wrap the drone with aluminum foil to block the GPS signal.

Geofences are also not available to most consumers, despite attempts to initiate a no-fly zone registry in 2015.

Challenging the trespasser

The best way to stop unwanted surveillance over your home, property, or business facility is to contact the controller or seek redress. When you ask nicely, your neighbor who has a drone may stop flying the object over your airspace. If otherwise, you can make a private cause of action for private nuisance, trespass, or invasion of privacy.

How to find your drone at night?

Did you lose sight or lost contact with your drone in one night out on duty? You can find it by also using the above-mentioned methods: watching out for its sound and the light emissions.

Without looking everywhere for them, you can find your drone using GPS technology in the drone or by tracking it down with the drone’s mobile application. This can be done through the find my drone function or the flight logs.

Final thoughts

Due to the implications on safety and privacy, we’ve seen in this article how to tell if a drone is watching you at night with technology and your senses and the next steps to take.

If you can’t jam or block the drones, can you detect them? Well, detecting and stopping drones is difficult but not impossible as we’ve seen throughout while showing you how to spot a drone at night.

Radar is a drone detection method, but it is not very reliable as it can mistake birds for drones. Acoustic sensors can be a better way to detect unwanted drones, as they can be programmed to recognize the sound signatures of certain types of drones.

Radiofrequency scanners can pick up drones by checking the electromagnetic spectrum, as they recognize drone transmissions. However, drones that rely on GPS and that do not use radio signals to navigate will not be able to be captured in this way.

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