“We have developed technology to identify and locate hostile drones, and we are taking control o
The increased availability of drones increases the risk of them being used in dangerous or malicious ways, says Zohar Halachmi, co-founder and CEO of D-Fend Solutions. But early solutions for theft threats were aimed at large aircraft or they carried the risk of collateral damage. D-Fend Solutions created the technology to detect hostile drones and take control of them, without affecting other drones and communication systems. Halachmi shares that their work saved the Pope during an event, and most people had no idea there was almost an incident. As threats evolve, D-Fend’s solution must keep pace. The corporate culture of believing they can handle anything and that innovation makes the impossible happen is key to their success, says Halachmi. This is his first venture into the drone space, but he enjoys embarking on a new type of business with each career change.
Tell me a little more about yourself. What has been the North Star that has guided you during your transition in the different companies with which you have worked?
I grew up in Israel. I joined the Technion and got my first degree there, then moved to Tel Aviv University. Then I started my career. I started with large companies and then with startups. Most of my professional life was spent in the United States at that time. I have also spent time in the AsiaPac region.
Eventually you enter drone space. How does one transition to working at something like D-Fend Solutions six years ago?
If you look at my career, I’ve never really done the same thing. My first activity was DSL. The second was SaaS for enterprises. The third was mobile advertising. And this is the fourth. Each time, I evolve into a different type of business and technology. That’s really what I love about what I do as an entrepreneur.
I think there are two types of entrepreneurs. There are those who come with the technology, and they try to find a need for that technology. And those who try to find a need and develop technology for that specific need. I am of the second type.
The need I found is this type of drone processing. In fact, we protect ourselves from drones. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. The drone society is very important. It really is the future of a lot of things. What we’re trying to do is support the growth of this company and secure the adoption of drones while providing the innovation and technology to support it.
What’s happening with drone technologies in the world today?
When we talk about drones, we each have a different image in our heads. Some of us see Amazon bringing things to us with drones. Some of us see pizza coming. Others use it in different malicious ways.
If you look back about 10 years ago, you had to buy or invest $50 million to $100 million to get this kind of equipment. Right now, for $1,500, you can order yourself a drone that can really give you incredible capabilities. Plug in a very powerful camera that comes pre-integrated, and you have a very sophisticated camera that flies around you very easily and quickly. This is really the big change.
What I’m hearing is this decentralization of drones that maybe one day could be weapons or have tools that can be used in ways that we don’t want them to, that’s a risk that we have to deal with. It’s no longer specific armies or groups that we know buy them, but now you have decentralization and we don’t have much control over it. Law?
It’s correct. Some of it comes from malicious types of use, and some of it just comes from the inability of the people using it to understand the danger and what can really happen if they use it the wrong way. If you try to use these types of drones next to airports and try to take a very cool photo of any type of plane taking off, it’s dangerous.
In what tangible scenarios can we imagine a company like D-Fend Solutions becoming extremely relevant? What are we really defending ourselves against?
I’m going to give you several scenarios. Think of the Gatwick event (in 2018) where the airport was closed for almost 72 hours.
Another, if you think of VIP locations, whether it’s Buckingham Palace, the White House, or the Japanese Prime Minister’s office: all of those places were places where people landed drones next to them or on them. Most of them weren’t actually terrorists. But it is also a very important place to protect yourself.
Another, prisons. Drones are the most popular and easiest way to smuggle narcotics, mobile devices, ammunition and other equipment into prisons. Sporting Events and Crowd Events: You don’t want a drone flying overhead when watching the Super Bowl.
And you don’t want any drone taking the intellectual property rights from an organization that acquired those intellectual property rights for money. It’s not just security, it’s not just security, it’s also intellectual property rights.
Take me back to 2016. Where did D-Fend Solutions come in? What is the thesis that you come in and say, “I want to do this”?
When we started, we evaluated all the different technologies available on the market to deal with drones. We discovered that the traditional type used for large aircraft is the type used against drones. They do not really correspond to the current situation. If you want to try to protect yourself from drones inside Manhattan or protect the Pope, you can’t use radar to identify those drones. This goes for detection.
If you try to understand the attenuation part of this, in the end there were two types of attenuation available: kinetic solutions, i.e. anything that flies really fast and does a big boom or a little boom at the end ; and jammers, GPS jammers, WIFI jammers, communication jammers, GPS spoofers, and the collateral damage of these is enormous.
This is a real case that we published about three months ago: we saved the pope during a real event. You can’t fire a missile there. If you’re going to jam, you’re going to impact all communication in that environment.
We came with the understanding that we had to develop something else that would enable law enforcement and people trying to protect themselves in those kinds of places. We have developed the technology that allows us to identify, track and locate these drones using the communication available to these drones, and we take control of hostile drones, without any collateral damage. We have no impact on other drones flying there or other communications flowing there. It is a really safe solution to control this problem.
I like to say we take a drone incident and we check that it’s not going to become an incident at all. The Pope case is a classic example. Nobody really knew we were about to have a drone incident there. And nothing happened.
From a technological and innovation point of view, in this game of cat and mouse of new technologies coming from drones, how do you, as a company, ensure that you are constantly at the cutting edge of technology?
Understanding that this is a game of cat and mouse is very important. Many other types of solutions are the ones you give to the customer, and that’s the solution until the end of the life of that equipment. This is not a viable solution in the world of drones. You must have this ability to upgrade and update the product at any time.
I think the best analogy is your antivirus on your computer. We need to update this antivirus constantly to keep up with new viruses. What we have done is develop a methodology to do just that. We simply release updates and verify that we address the most advanced types of threats.
How do you create a culture of curiosity, innovation, and continuous advancement that allows the company to have that mindset?
First of all, I call it “making it happen”. We can still handle it all. It’s part of the company’s DNA. And innovation, ultimately, truly achieves the impossible. We try to think of all these problems in an innovative way to find an innovative technology to deal with them.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies artificial intelligence at Stanford University, is a venture capital partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias was previously an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a series of tech entrepreneurship interviews featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing Editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan