How to Build Security Drones

September 8. 2016. 4 mins read
Table of contents

Technology advances in electronics, lithium batteries, materials, and video miniaturization have led to the consumer drone boom which has largely been driven so far by the $10 billion startup company, DJI Innovations, which is now the largest player in this space. The drop in consumer drone prices has created an entire new niche of hobbyists, with the cost of admission now less than $500 for a drone like the one seen below that flies for 25 minutes and records the entire flight in HD:

DJI Drone

With drone technology reaching a certain level of maturity, you now have all kinds of companies designing applications to commercialize these new flying vehicles. Disruptive applications like delivery, agriculture, and of course defense are all being pursued with the focus on building an entire cloud-based platform around these industry verticals. When we think of drones used for defense, we usually think of those large-scale drones that fly at very high altitudes over war zones while taking pictures and killing terrorists. However, smaller consumer drones like the DJI Phantom seen above could very well be used for smaller security applications such as flying security drones.

How to Build a Security Drone

First, you’ll need to develop a system that allows your security drones to fly almost continuously. One of our on-staff PHDs did a “make vs. buy” analysis and concluded that you should probably just partner with a company called Airobotics which offers a robot that will swap out your drone batteries on the fly as seen below:

Airobotics Security Drone Charging Station
Source: Airobotics

Second, you’ll need a way for your security drones to “see”. If all the drone does is record video that some guy in a control room sits and watches, you’ve accomplished very little in terms of labor savings and that won’t make for a very compelling value proposition. Our security drones need the ability to “see”. In order for that to happen, we’ll need a small chipset that allows our drone to quickly understand what it sees in almost real-time. A startup called Movidius has developed a chipset called “Myriad 2” which is the industry’s first always-on vision processor which delivers high-performance machine vision and visual awareness in severely power-constrained environments:

Movidius Security Drone Vision Chipset

You better move quickly though, because Intel just acquired Movidius last week. Now that your security drone can see, it can alert you when it spots any human or perhaps only humans it doesn’t recognize. The problem is, it can only see during the day. We’ll need to consider the fact that many security solutions need to operate in the dark. A company called FLIR Systems (NASDAQ:FLIR) has already developed a thermal imaging solution for drones which is presently being used by firefighters as seen below:

Firefighting Drone Flir

Now that you have a platoon of continuously flying drones that can see in the dark and interpret what they see using artificial intelligence, you’ll need to duct tape the whole thing together with a software platform that you should label with some really cool-sounding futuristic name so you can go off and raise some mad funding for your newly conceived “drone startup”.

When you’ve closed your first Series A funding round, hire a crack team of Silicon Valley developers that you poach from other cool startups and begin developing some software that will allow you to perform some basic functionality like:

  • Program routes and coverage areas with options for randomization
  • Set-up frequency of flights for any time interval
  • Enable triggers for alarms when drones see humans (or certain types of humans)
  • Work in combination with other security hardware like motion sensors
  • Send “big data” up to to “the cloud”

You now have a security drone solution that you can sell to prisons, oil refineries, college campuses, nuclear power plants, schools, border patrol agencies, shipping ports, airports, or any other enterprise that needs perimeter monitoring.

We had a look around to see if anyone stole our idea yet and unfortunately we did find a few competing solutions. In addition to a crowdfunded security drone called Hawkeye which failed to receive enough funding, we also found at least two other companies in this space.


A startup that graduated from Y Combinator with $120K in funding called Aptonomy claims to be building security drones that do everything we just described above. They debuted a prototype which also shines a light on intruders and has speakers that allow you to communicate with them, several features we hadn’t thought of.  One energy company was so impressed by the Aptonomy drone prototype that they placed preorders already.


Late last year, Japan’s biggest security company debuted what they called the world’s first security drones which hover about 3-5 yards off the ground and travel at speeds of 6 mph. These security drones are being promoted as an alternative to fixed security cameras which means the solution will probably not result in any meaningful labor savings.


So there you have it. You better get started on building your security drones now because there are at least two companies ahead of you.


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  1. Agree with the above but is missing a company that offers all of the above components.

    Percepto already has the 3 main elements needed for on-site autonomous drones for security:

    -A base station that can recharge, communicate and shelter the drone
    – A drone with a PerceptoCore module, the first ( before Movidius :)) onboard module that enables real-time vision applications for security (detect and track), Safety and inspection tasks.
    – Percepto develops the vision applications provided with the full system.

    Basically, Percepto already has all the above components in one offering.

    1. Thank you for the comment Ariel. We’re very keen to learn more about Percepto and perhaps feature the company in a future article. Can you please ping us if you’re up for that? [email protected]. Thank you!