Robert Hewitt and Hala Nassar will work with Duke over the next three years to ensure drone deterrents are unobtrusive and don’t detract from surroundings.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

CLEMSON — Technology to detect and deter drone activity has been developed in recent years in response to privacy and safety concerns, however, it is often too expensive for smaller organizations.

Knowing there is growing need for more affordable options, the National Science Foundation has awarded Clemson and Duke universities a $750,000, three-year grant to create a more economical solution for public spaces. The effectiveness of their designs will be tested at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Hala Nassar, a landscape architecture professor in Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, is the university’s principal investigator (PI). She and co-PI Robert Hewitt, an associate professor of landscape architecture, will provide expertise on how to best design drone-deterring structures so there is minimal impact on the aesthetical composition of outdoor environments.

“When people are enjoying a public space, the last thing they want to see is industrial-looking features. The design question then becomes how do we provide users with a sense of safety and privacy while preserving the natural character of the outdoor space,” said Nassar. “We’re looking forward to answering that question with Duke and developing state-of-the-art designs that will allow for passive countermeasures of drones nationwide.”

Mary “Missy” Cummings, mechanical engineering and materials science professor and director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, will lead Duke’s research efforts.

“Public space managers don’t often have the budget for expensive active drone countermeasures,” said Cummings. “If strategically placed shade canopies and trees or directed lighting can achieve the same results, we want to let people know how best to use them.”

Currently, there are more than 600,000 drones registered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and it is likely there are many more that are unregistered. This, in part, is due to the rise of social media photographers and the decreasing cost of tools that can help capture the perfect image. The FAA anticipates that sales of drones will rise from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020, likely causing an increased presence of drones in public spaces.

Drones aren’t just changing the way we see the world through videography and photography, they’re also changing how we do business. Amazon’s Prime Air is a glimpse of what the future will look like. While these advances are intended to make life easier, doing business better and providing services faster, there are also risks, like those at recent music and sporting events.

These are the occurrences that the interdisciplinary and interinstitutional team will seek to prevent by determining how organizations can create public spaces that promote positive uses of drones while inhibiting pranksters and potentially malicious pilots.

“The innovative research being done by Clemson landscape architecture professors Hala and Robert will help preserve and enrich the experience of public spaces for years to come,” said Richard Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “We are grateful for the partnership with Duke and the support of the National Science Foundation as we address the modern challenge of drones.”

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Some of this material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award number IIS 1734247 . Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.