TOKYO — Toshiba is investing $15 million in a U.S. startup to develop and produce drone interceptors that can track and capture targets autonomously.
Toshiba Infrastructure Systems and Solutions Corp. has invested in Fortem Technologies in the state of Utah in the U.S. The companies have not disclosed the ownership split.
The two parties will combine their technologies to offer drone interceptors both in Japan and overseas. Toshiba wants to combine Fortem’s technology with its own to detect radio waves emitted from a flying object. The company sees their drone interceptors as being used in facilities such as airports and nuclear power plants.
The move comes on the back of terrorist attacks globally using drones in many places including petroleum facilities, which have raised global security concerns.
In Venezuela in 2018, there was an attempted assassination of the president using a drone fitted with explosives. In the same year, runways at Gatwick Airport in London were closed after several reports of suspicious flying objects were detected near it, causing major disruptions.
Toshiba estimates that the global market for a drone interception system will expand to 300 billion yen by 2030, compared with tens of billions of yen in 2020. Demand will increase in particular for use at nuclear power plants, airports, government facilities and stadiums.
Toshiba’s entrance into the sector could further accelerate market expansion. The company hopes to raise annual revenue from the business to 30 billion yen by 2030.
Fortem Technologies specializes in products and systems that are used to defend against drones and has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense. Their drones can automatically trace targets and capture them with nets.
Fortem has developed a device that emits radio waves that can detect the position of a drone, but the device also picks up other objects such as birds. Toshiba, too, has launched a device that receives radio waves emitted by a drone and identifies the direction and altitude of a flying object. Both hope that their partnership will enhance their already existing capabilities.
There have been other technologies to defend against suspicious drones — using a laser to shoot them down, for example. But such measures could be counterproductive if the drones were equipped with explosive material or chemical weapons. Birds of prey such as hawks and eagles can also be used to drive suspicious objects away, but this is relatively expensive in terms of training costs.