Report: Australian Drone Hacked, Crashes, Injures Athlete

Report: Australian Drone Hacked, Crashes, Injures Athlete

Drones don’t just exist for pretty videos and convenient delivery. They also exist to be a hazard to athletes, with a crash in an Australian triathlon injuring one competitor and leading to accusations of hacking.

According to a report on the ABC, at around 9am on Sunday a camera drone that was filming the Endure Batavia Triathlon in Western Australia crashed into the ground. An athlete claims she was struck by the drone as it fell, but other reports say it crashed near her, and she fell after becoming “startled”.

The image above, from Browning Media, shows both the athlete – Raija Ogden, bleeding from a head wound – and the drone in question.

The operator of the drone, New Era Photography and Film’s Warren Abrams, says that somebody intentionally “channel hopped” the drone, which interrupted the pilot’s signal and caused the drone to drop the ground.

Whether it really was hacked or not, and whether the athlete was really hit by the drone or not, one thing not up for debate is that Abrams’ company lacked the certification to be commercially covering the race in the first place. Making this all one giant, robotic mess.

Triathlete injured as drone filming race falls to ground [ABC][Image: Browning Media]


  • Wow! Good thing there aren’t any drones out there with weapons on them or plans for it.

  • somebody intentionally “channel hopped” the drone

    Personally I find this a little difficult to believe. Considering how the radio technology works, you cant channel hop on purpose. As far as I know the transmitters and receivers scan the channels first looking for an available frequency and when it finds one then it locks on.

    In order to be able to interrupt this process you would have to have specially modified equipment, and software running on that equipment. Even with how good the tech is these days, there still can be glitches which includes temporary loss of signal, this has happened to me with my rc helicopters.

  • Now this hacking, is it like “Someone hacked my facebook” hacking? (re: I fudged up somewhere along the lines and bad things happened) or do we believe that someone gained control over a random drone with the intention of crashing it into the ground…

    • NO. Channel hopping just disrupts the signal from the transmitter to the receiver. If there’s no signal or noise on the frequency then the control unit will spaz out and do silly things. Since Quads need full control of all motors to stay in the air, it fell.

      It’s more like “jamming” than “hacking”.

      • Why would it spaz out and do silly things? It’s not getting any input, so it does nothing; i.e. hovers. It’s still got every other sensor enabled.

        Those cheap AR drone things for kids have this functionality too.

        • +1 I run Ardupilot on mine and it will just hover if it loses input, same with most quad/tri copter controllers I know of. If he’s talking about channel hopping he’s probably running a digital 2.4ghz which requires the transmitter to be bound to the receiver so it shouldn’t be possible to actually take control of it mid flight.

        • Most are designed to convert a transmitter input into a motor signal via a ESC (Electronic Speed Controller).
          Noise and Signal filtering can be quite complicated so most of them don’t bother. You simply rely on your transmitter being the most powerful signal on that specific channel/frequency.

          So if you scramble that frequency, you’re essentially sending junk signals to the receiver. The control system usually isn’t smart enough to know what a a real signal is as opposed to a junk signal.
          All you’d have to do to crash a quad is send a high roll signal. So the equivalent of pushing a control stick to one side. This would flip the quad. The quad has no way of knowing if you meant to do that or if it’s a rogue signal.

          There are obviously ways around that, but it has to be autonomous since you can’t rely on a constant connection with the quad (eg due to jamming). Or you can have multi channel redundancy (but again, multiple frequencies can be jammed at once).
          If you had an autonomous one that followed GPS waypoints, then you wouldn’t be able to crash it like this.

          It’s basically similar to a quad moving out of range of the transmitter. It may have an auto level function or some sort of built in emergency loss of signal routine, but jamming or channel hopping wouldn’t be recognized as low signal. It’s basically a highjacked signal broadcasting rubbish instructions.

          Don’t think of it as data transmission… think of it as radio waves and noise. \

          The Cheap AR drones run on wifi not normal RC frequencies. They have a higher bandwidth and two way communication. In someways that’s heaps better but severely limits the range.

  • So “hacked” now means: “I was using an insecure and common radio frequency and someone closer to the drone used my frequency to turn off the drone.”

  • If it fell from the sky when the control signal was jammed, it’s just an RC hexacopter, not a drone.

    • The photo shows its a hexcopter which means it needs a proper controller. There may be super cheap ones available without it but all the ones I know of have fail safes for signal loss. That said they often do need to be setup which he may have skipped.

      • Hexacopter is just the design of it though, what makes it a drone or not is whether it can operate on instructions or requires a constant control signal. A drone wouldn’t just fall from the sky if the control channel was jammed since it’d just operate on its last instruction.

  • I don’t know about the particular drone used here, but the Parrot.AR drone uses a WiFi connection so that it can be controlled by a phone or tablet. In these cases, the connection can definitely be hacked with the hacker taking control over the drone’s movements.

    Check out this video from Hak5 where Darren takes over a drone (from another drone, no less) and automates a shell session that subsequently kills the drone causing it to drop from the sky:

  • Is she bleeding from the head whilst the guy has walked past her to pick up the drone and make sure it’s okay?

      • Ah, I see. Initially it just looked like he was bending over to collect the drone. His stance looks like he’s bending over, not falling or diving.

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