De-Droned: Protecting Critical Infrastructures from the Drone Threat



Founding Entity: College of Science and Engineering – Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU-CSE)

Amount of the Founding: $ 465,000.00

Duration of the Project: 3 years

Lead Investigator: Prof. Dr. Roberto Di Pietro


Critical Infrastructures (CI) do represent the backbone for a Country’s wealth and development. More than that, CI also have safety implication for the population. For instance, think how we are dependent on electricity (e.g. hospital, emergency services). That is why CI do deserve an adequate level of protection against current and emerging threats.  Moreover, CI are also fragile: structurally, they are a complex system, with a high level of dependency among sub-components (i.e. if one sub-component halts, the whole systems either stops, or is severely degraded in performance); and, they are physically exposed. Indeed, given the extension of this type of infrastructures (think of an airport, or of an electricity production facility), while it is costly but still doable providing physical security perimeter, when it comes to the level of exposition to threats from the sky, these infrastructures usually rely on national Air Force defensive measures. That, unfortunately, are completely ineffective against the drone threat.

When it comes to emergent threats, drones undoubtedly do rank at the top of the list. Indeed, if we look at drone technology, we can figure out that this technology is cheap to acquire, easy to use, widely available, and highly customizable (drones can be programmed to accomplish specific task). While drones are well known and long used tools in the military context, in this project we will focus on commercial drones, since they represent the ideal weapon in an asymmetric type of conflict for the following (not exhaustive) reasons: they are cheap (the top notch commercial drone is below 5K$, while a military UAV is more than a few million $), widely available (you can find them in any supermarket or toy store), easy to deploy (hundreds of them can be stored in a van), anonymous (there is no signature either physical or digital that can tie a drone to a specific  owner), do abide to the no on-purpose infrastructure (they are radio directed, or can rely on 4G/LTE commercial network), and barely detectable (drones can fly as low as few centimeters, practically escaping any current detection technology (Radar/Lidar). Given all these features, it is obvious that drones would represent the ideal weapon in an asymmetric conflict to bring havoc on the CI of a given targeted State.

The project objective is to investigate commercial drone technology in order to be able to devise countermeasures to the threat that drones represent to CI. While the project aims at having a high maturity level in terms of technological transfer (the devised solutions could be easily adapted into products), the research challenges that it has to tackle do represent an opportunity to achieve scientific world class results. Indeed, the project spans over several research topics that needs to be investigated; namely: wireless security; signal processing, energy efficiency, classification, pattern recognition, just to name a few.

The impact of the project is twofold. The first one, and almost self-evident, is to protect Qatar’s Critical Infrastructures. The second one, is to develop the basis for providing Qatar stakeholders with the basic tools, technology, and manpower to progress on both defensive and offensive drone technologies.