IRL developed VirtualDrone technology

Published in 2017

Modern Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), aka. drones, are literally flying computers with networking
capabilities which may expose them to cyber attacks. The vulnerability of UAS facing a hostile network environment is the emerging concern of industry. A successful cyber attack on a capable UAS platform would lead to disastrous results. Modern UAS platforms must implement protection mechanism against ever-increasing cybersecurity threats.

An autonomous aerial vehicle with VirtualDrone protection against cyber attacks and system malfunctions

A VirtualDrone flies inside IRL’s flying arena.

Taking advantage of modern embedded processor and systems design, a team of IRL researchers Ph.D. candidate Man-Ki Yoon, Dr. Bo Liu, Prof. Naira Hovakimyan and Prof. Lui Sha, specializing aerial robotics recently developed a drone platform that can continue flying safely even when a cyber-attack kills the flight controller and return to home safely when a suspicious change on the flight plan is detected.

The system, named VirtualDrone, utilizes processor virtualization technique to isolate a disposable autopilot system in a virtual machine. VirtualDrone achieves separation of the autopilot and system monitoring mechanism as well as protection of core system functionalities including physical sensors against malicious modifications and denial-of-service attacks. The autopilot is disposable in the sense that pre-configured backup software can be always ready to take over the flight control if malicious states or safety hazards are detected.

This drone technology developed here at IRL promises a resilient drone platform that is reliable and trustworthy even in a presumably hostile environment. This work has been accepted for publication and will be presented in the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in April 2017.