A BGU laser expert has developed a laser-based defense system, dubbed Light Blade (Lahav-Or in Hebrew), that will be able to down the next generation of attack drones. He and his colleagues from industry have formed OptiDefense to develop and commercialize the system.
A simpler model operated by Israel's Border Police and paired with Elbit's SupervisIR threat detection system had great success downing the explosive balloons that came over the border from Gaza last month.
Attack drones are becoming increasingly common threats. Current drones must still maintain some communication link – either to their handler or to GPS and therefore electronic jamming systems can exploit that weakness – known as a "soft kill". However, future attack drones will be completely autonomous, navigating via onboard sensors and cameras and eschewing any sort of exploitable communication link. In order to neutralize them before they reach their target, a "hard kill" option is needed to physically target and shoot down the drone.
Prof. Amiel Ishaaya of BGU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences is an expert on lasers. He and two friends from the industry developed a system with enthusiastic support and funding from Border Police Commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai whose main advantage is that it can be used in urban environments.
"In order to operate most high-powered laser defense systems, the airspace needs to be cleared for many kilometers around so the laser does not accidentally blind anyone. Our system operates on a lower frequency which makes it safe for urban environments. Airports, for example, could station our systems around to provide complete coverage without endangering any pilots or passengers," says Prof. Ishaaya.
Other potential applications include defending public events such as concerts or speeches. The system's approximate range is several kilometers.
OptiDefense was founded by Prof. Ishaaya, Dr. Udi Ben-Ami and Dr. Rami Aharoni. The company is currently seeking investments to facilitate future development.
When the fire balloons started coming over the Gaza border in early 2018 and burning fields in the Western Negev, Dr. Ben-Ami called up Prof. Ishaaya and urged a collaboration to find a solution.
"He said, 'we just worked on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses. Kites and balloons are made of similar materials,'" Prof. Ishaaya recalled.
Prof. Ishaaya made some calls and when they discovered that no one else was developing a system to combat the kites and balloons, they got to work. Operating on a shoestring budget of just a few million shekels, they scaled the laser up to take out the balloons at a distance.
The three received invaluable funding, materials and testing grounds from the Border Police, after Commander Shabtai enthusiastically threw his support behind it. That support enabled them to produce a working prototype in just a year.
Last month, paired with Elbit's SupervisIR threat detection system, "we succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire," says Prof. Ishaaya.
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