UND has received a substantial contract and award from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to advance efforts to counter potential threats from unmanned aerial systems.

According to a release from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., UND received more than $1 million to research the current capabilities, limitations and constraints of existing UAS technologies to assess potential threats. Following this assessment, the university will lead counter-UAS demonstrations to evaluate techniques for threat mitigation.

“We’ve built North Dakota into a premiere location for unmanned research, development, training and operations, and UND has been a pivotal part of these efforts,” Hoeven said. “That’s why we made the case to DHS to utilize UND and our state’s expertise in developing these counter-UAS technologies. This is an important part of our efforts to ensure unmanned aircraft can be safely integrated into our airspace and unlock this technology’s potential, both for our economy and our national security.”

According to the release, Hoeven is working to implement the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, which he helped introduce. The legislation supports the development of counter-UAS technology to protect important facilities from potential misuse of unmanned aircraft.

Hoeven is also working to get the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report to Congress on efforts to establish a counter-UAS training program to benefit state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, and to make use of the expertise of people at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, in Grand Forks.

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UND President Andrew Armacost said he appreciated Hoeven’s continued partnership with bringing UAS opportunities to the university. UND, Armacost said, plays a critical role in the research and development of UAS technologies, and the contract with DHS is yet another example of that.

“Our efforts to advance beyond visual-line-of-sight technologies for UAS are leading to new opportunities in the areas of national security and counter-UAS measures to address the threat of drones used for illegal purposes.”

Previously, UND worked with DHS to detect, track and identify drones. This round of research will revolve around how to defeat a drone, if a person decided to, for example, fly it into critical infrastructure. Mark Askelson, executive director of UND’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems, said there are a number of ways this can be done, from actually firing a bullet at a drone, to interrupting it’s controlling signal, or by using lasers or electromagnetic pulses, among other methods. One method, Askelson said, could potentially see a drone deploy a net to capture another drone flying in a place it shouldn’t be.

“This research is really trying to focus on that ‘defeat’ stuff, and what techniques you can use and how they perform,” Askelson told the Herald.

Various entities in the region’s UAS ecosystem will form a team to conduct the research. That team includes the RIAS, the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and private-sector partners.

“We are grateful to our leadership and to the DHS for this tremendous opportunity,” Askelson said.

Paul Snyder, director of UND’s UAS program, said this latest award will continue to strengthen UND’s relationship and ability to collaborate with DHS and other partners even more in the future, and bodes well for future research opportunities.

“With regard to UAS education, research and training, this research award is a clear win for UND students, faculty and the state,” said Snyder.