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In The Boardroom With...

Mr. Lucas Le Bell
Chief Executive Officer

Watch the CerbAir Video here Thank you for joining us today, Lucas. Drones have certainly been in the headlines very often recently and the general public is gaining an understanding, and a rapid education, about how drones can be used for either good or for bad. Before discussing CerbAir Drone Detection Solutions in greater detail, how did this idea for CerbAir come about and may we have a brief corporate history of CerbAir?

Lucas Le Bell: After the first consumer drones hit the market back in 2010, I was offered the first best-seller UAV: a Parrot AR Drone. Like most hobbyists, I started to fly it above my home and soon realized how easy it was to enter private areas and spy on my neighbors from afar. I soon figured out the real security challenge that such innovation would pose to existing security systems since none of them could detect drones let alone stop them.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to gather a team to work on a drone detection system: CerbAir was born. Since day one, we have been convinced that drones would forever change the society we live in because they can help us observe and transport in a more efficient and autonomous way. That is why we believe these flying objects are here to stay, especially in logistics (see Amazon Prime Air and Google[x] Project Wing), precision agriculture, construction, tourism, cinema or the police just to name a few. No wonder many experts see such innovation as one of the most disruptive of the 21st century. Today, the industry is skyrocketing as evidenced by the latest sales figures: 360,000 drones are sold every month in the world. Within a few years, they should fill our sky by millions. Obviously, the more drones sell, the bigger the risk: in the wrong hands, a drone is a criminal’s minion that could spy or attack sites at risk without exposing its pilot.

To give you a brief corporate history, the company was created in July 2015. We spent the first months designing our own detection solution that features our proprietary software, our Radio-frequency detectors and a wide range of battle-proven cameras. When our tests proved successful a few months ago, we started commercializing our complete solution. Shortly after, we diversified our product range with a mobile version of our drone detector for events. We also started to market intrusion tests to assess a site’s vulnerability to the drone threat. We are now working with a lot of security companies in France and abroad to address this emerging albeit promising market. As the drone industry evolves towards more commercial uses of drones, we will be happy to use our technology to control and secure drone traffic. One will read on  that your solutions are the “answer against the growing threat of malicious drones.” What is your perspective regarding the “threat” posed by drones?

Lucas Le Bell: Basically drones pose 3 types of risks to a wide variety of sensitive sites: spying, transporting and attacking (whether intentional –terrorism- or not –collision-). Now this threat of malicious drones is constantly growing for various factors.

First of all, their potential negative impact increases as they become more and more technologically advanced. Indeed, drones can now fly at speed reaching 105 MPH and altitude of 10,000 feet, carry payload up to 33 pounds, use a very high resolution camera (4K) with lenses, nightvision, or even turn on a mic once landed. They can spray 10L of chemical products or even carry guns, flamethrowers or remote explosive devices. All of these features make it a lot easier to commit crimes with tremendous impact.

Secondly, drones are becoming more affordable and easy to fly. Indeed, one can buy a high end drone for a few hundred dollars and learn to fly it within 30 minutes. Not to mention that pilots are now assisted by technologies like collision detection or itinerary pre-programming for instance. Anybody can now buy a drone, fly and wreak havoc with it while staying in the shadows.

Lastly, this threat is growing as more and more UAVs are in circulation: drone sales tripled over the last year (end of April 2016) and it is gaining momentum.

Looking at facts and figures, “The Independent” has recently discovered that the number of incidents reported to the police involving drones in the UK has dramatically increased by 352% in a single year (425 in 2015 vs 94 in 2014). Across the world, there are plenty of examples involving drones flying on top of nuclear power plant cooling chimneys or near airports, spying industrial sites or transporting illegal items to inmates in prison at night such as drugs, cell phones or weapons. Think about all the ones that haven’t been detected and that won’t since drones are getting smaller and smaller (the Cheerson CX10W is only 2.5 inch wide and fits a camera).

Even worse, drones could be used by terrorists. Indeed, after the attack that hit France in November 2015, we discovered in a terrorist’s computer that they had plans to send a swarm of drones carrying remote explosives to blow the main towers of Paris CBD (“La Défense”). Please give us an overview of CerbAir solutions, features, and benefits.

Lucas Le Bell: In the light of this ever-increasing threat, we developed DroneWatch, the near-airspace surveillance technology that features optical and radio-frequency-based technologies as well as advanced algorithms to detect all types of drones. DroneWatch comes either as a fixed solution on premise or in a mobile flight case to protect events and redeploy elsewhere. We protect all types of sites at risk such as industrial sites, infrastructures, villas, prisons, events or governmental / international institutions.

We usually carry out an intrusion test to assess a site vulnerability to the drone threat and then adapt our installation scheme. We then deploy our detectors (optical and radio-frequency) to ensure a 360° protection and connect them with a local server in the security HQ. Our solution can even be integrated into existing security systems thanks to our API.

DroneWatch’s user-friendly interface allows you to locate, see and track the drone on your monitor once it is detected. Our detection ranges are 500m for radio-frequency sensors and 100m for cameras.

Let us not forget that all individual technologies can prove deficient under exceptional circumstances. For instance optical detectors can be blind if there is no visibility (heavy rain, snow, obstacle in the way etc…). That is why we developed a multi sensor approach when designing our drone detection solution to make sure that our different technologies will strengthen the reliability of our detection. That allows us to have a very low rate of false alerts since we cross check our different detection layers. Finally, the modularity of our solution and its compatibility with existing hardware allows us to adapt to any site configuration. What do you do once you detect a drone?

Lucas Le Bell: Once a drone is detected, our software triggers an alarm and sends alerts to the right persons so that they can take the right actions. In most cases, passive actions (that don’t imply the drone neutralization) do the job just fine. These include putting a VIP to safety, carrying out a search, stopping a phone conversation, pausing data transfers, closing the curtains of a conference room or removing a mic for instance.

However, under extreme conditions, taking the drone down immediately might be necessary. This is why we can pair our detectors with directional jammers on strategic sites that have legal authorizations to do so. It is fair to say that  EVERY site, whether residential or commercial, whether government or military, any infrastructure, travel, or event location, is at risk for a malicious drone episode. What is the size of this market? And where do you see this market in 5 or 10 years?

Lucas Le Bell: Indeed, we believe that all sensitive sites are now at risk. As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of incidents showing pesky drones posing real security threats to a wide array of sites. Obviously, some are more at risk than others: episodes of near-miss around airports or drone deliveries in prisons are given strong media coverage because people immediately associate them with catastrophic possible outcomes. However, in terms of markets and revenues, we see a lot more potential with industrial sites, luxury villas and 5-star hotels (2/3 of a total of 1 million sites at risk in the world).  This market could be tantamount to a total of $20Bn revenues.

Within the next 5 to 10 years, we expect the market to dramatically grow. We believe that the demand for security solutions against malicious drones will be highly correlated with the drone market assuming that more drones in circulation will cause more drone incidents.

But before drones fill our sky, legislation will have to be eased regarding their commercial use. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. is already being actively lobbied by drone manufacturers and in June 2016, the Obama administration opened the U.S. skies to more commercial drones with softer regulation. In the UK, Amazon is already testing its drone deliveries. Moreover, this policy easing will require technological improvements of drone safety, emergency procedures and accurate pathfinding. All of these progress will be necessary before governments fully accept autonomous flights for drones (meaning without direct line of sight) which in turn are necessary for drone deliveries to happen. That day, the need for airspace surveillance and drone traffic monitoring will be mandatory. Congratulations on the successful engagement with “Solidays” - a music festival that gathered over 200,000 spectators during 3 days in June 2016.  Please tell us about the solutions CerbAir delivered here.

Lucas Le Bell: We deployed our brand new mobile DroneWatch solution to protect the crowd from potential drone attacks and accidents (drones carry ion-lithium batteries that can explode on impact).
This mobile solution contains everything you need to fully protect a site at risk with a 360° coverage reaching 500m. It has a server featuring our software, 4 pairs of directional detectors (optical/radio-frequency) set on top of a telescopic mast attached to a tripod.

During the 3 days, we detected a few intruding drones that we closely followed while security teams were sent to be ready to take them down. Fortunately, nothing bad happened. What is interesting though is that no one on the ground had spotted these drones: you can imagine how noisy and distracting a concert can be and how much focused you must stay on the crowd during such event. That made everybody realize that near airspace security is another full-time activity that cannot be taken lightly.  We also read with great interest regarding your new proprietary radio-frequency sensor which can detect any drone up to 500m away. Care to elaborate regarding this new technology?

Lucas Le Bell: Optical detection is very useful but its range is limited by the camera resolution. So we designed our radio-frequency sensor to increase our detection range to 500m. Since there was no such detector on the market, we designed it from the ground up to meet our objectives.

Throughout the world, drones can be flown with controllers emitting within specific radio-frequency (RF) ranges. These are 2.4 – 2.5 Ghz and 5 – 6 Ghz. So we created a RF sensor that would constantly scan these two ranges, looking for typical drone activity within the area. Our sensors are directional which allows us to give a general idea where the drone and the pilot might be located. They are all POE and have the necessary certifications: IP66 and anti-vandalism (just like our optical sensors). Lucas, it seems to us that CerbAir delivers a significantly higher level of security at a modest cost. What is CerbAir’s value proposition?

Lucas Le Bell:When it comes to protecting a sensitive site, a lot of risks have to be taken into account, drones being one of them. We understand that integrating new protection layers in an already complex security environment isn’t easy. So we strived hard to develop a very pragmatic approach to deliver a high level of security and reliability at a modest cost matching the real level of the drone threat. Every day, we focus on our core activity which is about creating robust algorithms. Combining them with battle-proven sensors and top 3rd party countermeasures allows us to deliver first-class service to our customers. That is what our value proposition is about: selling the right solution at the right price to match a realistic level of threat. As a result, we do not really compete with military technologies that most sites at risk cannot afford and which capabilities are overkill regarding our client needs. Thanks again Lucas for joining us today...are there any other subjects you would like to discuss?

Lucas Le Bell: I would like to have a word for our partners! Indeed, we are working with a growing network of security companies. They are the ones who usually sell our solutions to their end consumers which allows them to diversify their product range and grow their business. We believe it is a strong differentiating factor from their local competitors who have not figured out yet the new security challenge that drones are posing today. In a nutshell, we have a niche expertise while security companies have a global understanding of the security market and access to the customers. Therefore, we are always pleased to do a product demo or provide support when it comes to marketing our solutions. If you are interested in developing such partnership with our company, please go to our website dedicated section.

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