Metro

Drone-detection firm brought net guns to Marathon

Police warned race attendees before the event that drones were not allowed for filming or any other purpose.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Police warned race attendees before the event that drones were not allowed for filming or any other purpose.

The company tapped to detect drones near the Boston Marathon came equipped with special net guns to capture any unmanned aerial vehicles violating a ban along the race course.

Officials never deployed the nets — no illegal drones showed up during the 119th Marathon — but the technology is another example of how the airborne machines are changing the security conversation.

DroneShield, which installed a detection system at the Marathon, offered its services at no cost Monday.

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The company placed 10 sensors along a stretch of the 26.2-mile route. The gray boxes can pick up the sounds of a drone as far as 150 yards away, and alert officers via text or e-mail about its location.

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Police warned race attendees before the event that drones were not allowed for filming or any other purpose at the Marathon, and said officials would take notice.

DroneShield cofounder Brian Hearing said he showed up to the event Monday with a small arsenal of net guns just in case. Police did not use the guns because they had not trained with them ahead of time, Hearing said. But he believes the devices could be very useful.

Hearing said the net guns, which the company sells on its website for $129, technically are not guns; they operate using CO2 cartridges similar to a BB gun. He said the devices are commonly used to capture small game and wildlife when hunting.

Described as “more of a novelty,” the antidrone guns are used by Hearing’s Washington, D.C.-based company most often during demonstrations at trade shows.

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He said they can shoot large nets up to 50 feet, bringing a drone to the ground, and are a last resort in dangerous situations.

“Police had asked what they should do if we see a drone. The bottom line is, nothing. We might follow it and see if it lands, and who is controlling it, but there was no means or any plans to take it down or disable the drone,” said Hearing, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Police did not respond to a request for comment.

There has been growing concern about the use of drones, especially at major gatherings like the Marathon. And officials said before this year’s race that they implemented the ban in hope of avoiding any trouble.

Hearing said while the Boston police must have been pleased that no drones disrupted the Marathon, he was disappointed because he wanted to test his company’s detection technology at a large event.

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“It was a new environment, and I wished we could have detected something,” he said.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.