Prisons are fighting back against contraband-dropping drones. Here’s how

Remember those old prison movies where contraband got snuck into prison hidden in a birthday cake? It turns out that things have moved on a whole lot since then. Here in 2018, no self-respecting prisoner is worth their ill-advised neck tattoo if they don’t have a drone to smuggle weapons or narcotics into the prison yard.

To defend against this misuse of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), prison technologies company Securus Technologies has created a smart drone detection system, called AirWarden, which can help correctional officers better monitor drone traffic in the area of their prisons. “The AeroDefense AirWarden system is an advanced drone and pilot detection system that identifies and classifies unauthorized drones operating in the vicinity of correctional facilities,” a representative for Securus Technologies told Digital Trends. “The system employs cutting-edge technology to detect all range of drones and pilot controllers using their radio frequency signals. By monitoring the radio frequency spectrum, the system is able to notify authorities of an unauthorized drone’s presence in real time via email, text or control room alerts.”

The delivery of contraband via drones is a major threat to both corrections staff and inmate safety. It’s so significant, in fact, that Bureau of Prisons’ acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, has labeled it the single biggest threat facing federal prison security today. AirWarden doesn’t blast drones out of the sky like Lockheed Martin’s UAV-obliterating laser or catch them with trained eagles like the ill-judged Netherlands initiative.

Instead, the idea is that — once an unauthorized drone has been detected in a location — staff can then search that specific drop zone for any drugs, weapons, cell phones, cigarettes, or pornography which may have landed. They can also capture the drone pilot responsible for flying the vehicle. “The technology is currently deployed by Securus Technologies at Georgia Department of Corrections facilities, with plans to expand to additional states in the coming year,” Securus’ representative continued. “The system is fully operational and was installed at facilities following the completion of extensive testing with government entities and many different drone types.

AeroDefense also deploys the technology at non-prison facilities, including stadiums and other large public venues.”

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