Disabling drones with a Raspberry rifle

About a million of you emailed us over the weekend about this new implementation of the Raspberry Pi, in a rifle-shaped device which the US Army’s Cyber Institute appears to have made in order to shoot down domestic drones for…a bit of a lark.


What you’re seeing here is a Pi and a dirty great Wi-Fi antenna, which the fella in camouflage is using to trigger a known exploit in a commercial Parrot quadrotor.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Captain Brent Chapman explains that the form factor is useful in showing non-technical senior officers what cyber-weaponry is useful for (he hasn’t just made it gun-shaped because gun-shaped things are what armies do). The shape of this setup makes it easy to demonstrate that this isn’t impenetrable, hard-to-understand technology: it’s something you recognise. A thing you point at something and shoot with.


In the video above, the cyber-rifle is being used to demonstrate how to remotely breach the security of a locked bunker. (This bunker is much cuter and less full of deadly stuff than the ones I imagine when I read the news.)

Captain Chapman says:

“It was something that we built in order to illustrate the power of enabling the soldiers at the tactical level to ‘make’ in support of a mission. It’s an idea we call tactical making, or expeditionary making.”

This really isn’t a use of Raspberry Pi that we envisioned when we were designing the thing. Nor were the cubesats, the Antarctic penguin monitoring systems or the Radio 4 time machine. We await the next surprise with interest.


Pete Stevens avatar

That is awesome and I want one (and this is also a testing comment)

Pete Stevens avatar

This is also a testing comment. But I totally want to kill drones with a raspberry pi.

Paulie avatar

You need an original model A on a quadcopter, and *really* beef up the SD card eject spring….

Liz Upton avatar


zimpu avatar

Poing… ha ha ha…

chip avatar

My shotgun does it more effectively and the effects last longer, and the range is better too. #4 Buck. :D

W. H. Heydt avatar

Heh… This idea has the potential to sell a *lot* of Pis as people get more and more annoyed with misused drone.

Kratos avatar

Now I have an excuse to buy quad-copter. YAY!

Matt avatar

I have been wondering since the first time I came across an article that exploited the Wifi of a drone if I could make a Pi powered quad-copter that was capable of autonomous flight to seek out other quod-copters and take them down… It should be possible drone flight rules and all.

Liz Upton avatar

We have also found that a great way to take a quad-copter down is to fly it vertically into a light fitting at Gordon’s house, breaking both copter and light.

Kratos avatar

YIKES! Poor Gordon! (And the copter.)

Isaac Carter avatar

I have wondered the same thing Matt. I would like to see the opposite of this concept too, which would be a drone equipped with a Raspberry Pi shooting signals from it to disable other drones or disabling the rifle they are using. 

Liz Upton avatar

A limiting factor with that idea is the size of the antenna you’d need; you require quite a hefty piece of metal to make this work.

DarthBeta avatar

If you could shrink it to a small size it could be a new method for cheating in RC races. Almost impossible to find out who did it. The race wouldn’t be worth winning if everybody’s vehicle kept failing.

Dale avatar


Sammy Kamkar actually uses drones to take over drones, ZOMBIE DRONE ARMY! source: samy.pl/skyjack/

perrodingoo avatar

I hope Raspberry Pi will be never used for military purpose, wars or any kind of operation against humans, animals and nature.

iugamarian avatar

A military application would be in a zombie apocalypse, Raspberry Pi controlling turrets to fend off or take apart nearby zombies. The programming would shoot the turret one meter to one side of the target and slowly focus on the target. A human would run out of the way, while a zombie would not react much.

perrodingoo avatar

What you mean saying “zombie” – a mindless controlled human or living dead, which is not logic?

Andy avatar

Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun comes to mind

Paul Titcombe avatar

Don’t try this in the UK you will run foul of the law preventing disruption of licensed equipment.


bsanspree avatar

Wi-fi isn’t part of the licensed band in the UK or USA. In the USA it falls under part 15 of the FCC code. There is a limit to the amount of power you can use in both countries. If you are a licensed amateur radio holder you can legally output enough power to perform this task in the Wi-Fi bands.

Jim Manley avatar

Sorry, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re licensed or not, if you interfere with _any_ device (no matter how poorly designed/built), you’re violating the FCC regs (and the corresponding regs in most, if not all other countries with similar/identical laws regarding radio spectrum). If you cause interference, no matter how much power you’re allowed to effectively radiate (which also takes into account antenna gain), you have to either take measures to eliminate the interference or you have to stop emissions causing the interference, whether it’s intentional or not. Plus, there are strict limits on effective radiated power in bands such as WiFi precisely because it doesn’t require a license, and having a license only means you’re risking losing it if you violate the regs, especially by causing intentional interference. Having a license to transmit at tens of kilowatts in a commercial band does not mean you can transmit above the legal limit in a band in which neither you nor anyone else is licensed.

chip avatar

Exactly, but if you use a shotgun to defend your air space and live in a rural area where it is legal to discharge a fire arm from you property then tress passers beware…. I want one mounted over my fireplace with the holes still in it. The police in my area shoot them down all the time when the interfere with fire suppression efforts. :)

Brian avatar

I would like to see this fitted on commercial aircraft to keep them from harm during takeoffs and landings.

BMS Doug avatar

That would be extremely counterproductive Brian, the radiation could kill the avionics of the aircraft.

Brian Li avatar

i thin drone protocols are different than plane control protocols… if they were… what?

Fester Bestertester avatar

If the coil along the ‘barrel’ is an antenna, it’s a helical, and intensely directional. Radiation off-target would be minimal. I’d suspect a travelling-wave tube would be involved too.

over-40 avatar

Very unlikely to be a travelling wave tube amplifier; semiconductors have replaced them in most applications (and generating the necessary few watts for this sort of thing is a doddle these days, as you’ll see if you Google something like ‘Wi-Fi booster’).

charlie avatar

you sounded very clever until you spelt the word doddle(dawdle),now i feel i just cant take it seriously now.

Mike avatar

@charlie: I’ll just leave this here…


Neuro avatar

Err directional 2.4 Ghz antenas have nasty side lobes which if held like a rifle would go through through the shooters head.

And you will need to pump up the power to high levels that are illegal for subs aka civilains to use

Jim Manley avatar

Helical antennas are designed more for signal polarization of relatively low-power (but higher-energy as helicals are used in the GHz to tens of GHz freqs) signals to maximize signal-to-noise ratio. They’re generally used for satellite comms because satellite payloads have to weigh and use as little power as possible. They therefore have to be very precisely constructed and calibrated and so are not cheap if they’re effective. Plus, no antenna is truly “boresight” accurate as some power is always splattered in undesirable directions – in radar antennas, at least as much power is radiated out the back of the antenna and side lobes as in the desired direction, if not more, which is why they have to be fed so much power.

Rob avatar

Hm, and my idea of a phased array of rubber-band cannons starting to lose luster…

over-40 avatar

How to get a drone:

1. Save up *lots of money* and buy one, or

2. Take your Raspberry Pi, Wi-Fi dongle and hacking software to the park, and…

Tom avatar

actually, only 25 quid (35 including hd camera) – Syma x5

Bob avatar

Now if only I could make one that zapped the phones of those people shouting in to them next to me on the train!

Jim Manley avatar

It should be pointed out that these are experiments and technology demonstrations, not the precursor to operations agains civilians. The U.S. military is generally prohibited from being involved in operations within the U.S. beyond exercises that only involve military personnel (e.g., against simulated aggressor forces such as Red Flag at Nellis AFB in Nevada). They are specifically prohibited from operating against civilians in general within the U.S., except under very specific conditions, e.g., shooting down a commercial airliner that’s about to be flown by terrorists into structures where even greater loss of life and property could occur, or repelling/capturing people deemed to be a threat to national security attempting to illegally cross our borders in either direction.

Now, have there been cases where the authority to designate someone a threat to national security has been abused, at times severely so? You betcha, as they say in the Northern Plains, and military violators are subject to prosecution for federal crimes in the form of courts martial. Is a drug kingpin a threat to national security? I would say so, especially since they all use, never mind encourage, massive use of deadly force in their day-to-day operations, often to create an atmosphere of terror. Is a “coyote” escorting terrorists across the border into the U.S. a threat to national security? Uh-huh! Is someone operating a drone recording real estate footage over your back yard in that class of evil-doer? Ummmm, _NO_. Even if the military were allowed to zap drones from the domestic skies, there is a long-standing military tradition of proportional response, deescalation, and following rules of engagement (which can differ widely under various contextual circumstances).

They generally don’t shoot unless they’re shot at first, in certain situations can shoot if a weapon capable of deadly force that is likely armed is aimed at them within lethal range, and can even fire first if they’re being painted by a fire-control radar or laser designator that is clearly intentional and sustained. It can depend on the likelihood and scale of civilian casualties in the vicinity of the aggressor, as well as the level of hostilities leading up to a confrontation. A North Korean aircraft painting a U.S. aircraft with a fire-control radar in a way consistent with targeting while flying at high closing speed and about to cross the Demilitarized Zone would likely be sufficient to use reasonable force to eliminate, but spillover into other military operating areas is to be avoided if at all possible to keep an isolated incident from escalating into full-blown combat at an international level.

There are court cases in progress now challenging the legality for domestic law enforcement to use military surveillance drones to collect evidence on civilians, and the courts seem to be leaning against that if the military is operating the equipment. They certainly won’t be allowed to fire weapons from drones at civilians unless an imminent threat to national security can be firmly established, which is highly unlikely in all but the most blatant criminal gang activity, and even then …

Alan avatar

I’d prefer to throw my actual Pi at the person controlling the annoying drone. After I put the Pi in a big, heavy case.

Mike avatar

So does it actually KILL the drone, or can you revive a drone that’s knocked out of the air with this ?

( Just pointing something out after I noticed the article, I’ll leave the implications of it being easy-peasy to steal military drones for everyone else to discuss )

stu avatar

2.4 gig? why not just rig a 900w microwave ovens magnatron instead of the lnb of a sat dish? Yagi is so 1950s. hmmm, not limited to drones either. Seagulls, a passing U2, the moon is made of cheese isn’t it? add some foil and a tin hat to the shopping list.

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