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A U.K. prison just switched on an anti-drone ‘force field’ to stop illegal flights

The proliferation of cheaper, highly agile quadcopters has opened up myriad possibilities for hobbyists and industry alike. But the remotely controlled flying machines have also caught the attention of folks in the slammer, offering as they do an excellent way of delivering contraband directly into the exercise yard, or better still, right to a cell window — although admittedly such efforts don’t always go according to plan.

It’s a major problem for the authorities as they scramble to find the most effective technology to deal with the illegal incursions.

Not surprisingly, the issue of rogue drones has spawned a whole new industry, with a growing number of startups developing all kinds of kit designed to detect and bring down machines that fly into restricted areas, which besides prisons also include airports, government buildings, and nuclear facilities. Up to now, we’ve seen everything from net-firing bazookas and anti-drone “death rays” to beastly looking signal jammers and even highly trained birds of prey.

Keen to press ahead with countermeasures, a British prison this week switched on a newly installed 600-meter-high (about 2,000 feet) “drone shield” that’s designed to detect and block drones that fly close to its perimeter. It’s thought to be the first prison in the world to use such a shield.

The “Sky Fence” is the work of U.K. firms Drone Defence and Eclipse Digital Solutions and it’s been set up at Les Nicolles prison on the southern British island of Guernsey.

The system incorporates a number of signal disruptors placed around the perimeter as well as inside the prison grounds. When it detects a drone flying close by, it jams the signal between the drone and the pilot, thereby preventing it from completing its mission. The technology in its current form returns the drone to where it took off, which may give alerted security guards a chance to apprehend the offender and seize the contraband.

The cost of installing the technology is put at 100,000 to 250,000 British pounds ($130,000 to $325,000), depending on the size of the prison.

Prisoner governor David Matthews told the Telegraph it’s the first time the kit has been used “in any prison anywhere in the world.”

He added, “I would like to see it adopted in other U.K. prisons because it has become a significant problem there. Drones can carry weapons, contraband, mobile phones, and drugs. This is about prevention.”

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