When three Department 13 executives got together for a few backyard drinks, they didn't think they'd leave with an idea for a product that would change the company, and change the way the world protects against malicious drones. In that Maryland backyard, Department 13 CEO Jonathan Hunter chatted with his colleagues about the problem of drone-driven electronic warfare. The conversation led to an idea for software that allows users to take down unwanted drones without interfering with all drones in the area. With that conversation, the company was about to shift its focus to counter-drone software development.
Keeping Bad Guys Out of the Skies
Hunter, a former U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Officer, saw the impact of drones on the battlefield, after serving several tours in Afghanistan and Bosnia. He also understood that war zones aren't the only place drones can be a problem.
In 2016, nearly 700,000 drones were registered with the U.S. government. While hobbyists and consumers use many of those, drones can be manipulated to conduct surveillance and can even be weaponized. Problems with drones have already arisen in places like airports and prisons, Hunter said.
Department 13's counter-drone MESMER software, which has already been sold internationally, will be able to meet the needs of the future drone economy, while differentiating between good drones and malicious drones.
"We've already had drones become part of our infrastructure, and the future is going to exceed what anyone can imagine," Hunter said. "The drones are coming, and MESMER is there to make sure that they fly safe—that your airspace is safe, and that the ones that shouldn't be flying won't be flying."
MESMER customers could range from airports and stadiums to other critical infrastructure. Department 13 expects the future development of the MESMER software to be housed in many forms such as backpack platforms, vehicles and airborne systems that can provide a large enough range of counter-UAS capability to secure an entire city.
A Critical Move to Maryland
To be at the forefront of counter-drone technology you need more than just close proximity to major defense players like the National Security Agency—you need an elite workforce pool featuring the top talent in the field. For Department 13, this meant a move in October 2015 from Northern Virginia to Columbia, Maryland.
"We were doing work for Johns Hopkins when we demonstrated the ability of a laptop to take down a drone," said Hunter. "When they said they had never seen this before we thought, ' this could be good.' So it was then that we pivoted from a research company to a product company, secured $19 million in funding, and moved our global headquarters to Columbia Gateway Drive."
Hunter explained how the MESMER technology would not have been possible without the talented team and resources found in Maryland.
"The talent pool here in Maryland exceeds far beyond anyone else in the fifty states," Hunter said. "The capabilities of the people and the ability to hire good talent for the skill sets we're looking for is critical."
Support and resources at Department 13's fingertips is another reason the company finds success in Maryland.
"Our system relies on being able to demonstrate and test at great distances, so much so that it was hard to locate a five-kilometer range to test and demonstrate to potential customers and clients," Hunter said. "Maryland stepped up and located resources, like parks and the University of Maryland, for us to have access to resources that I never would have thought of for the testing of our system."
Drone use for personal, commercial and governmental use is expected to continue growing. Department 13, with its unmatched technology, is certain to continue growing with the industry.
Watch a video with CEO Jonathan Hunter.