Insurgents have been using armed drones to attack U.S. troops worldwide, so my co-inventor Alex Morrow and I built the DroneDefender to help protect them. It freezes enemy drones in place by disrupting radio- and satellite-control frequencies, but those airwaves are protected by the FCC, so we couldn’t just use the system—even on our own property.
That’s how we wound up at Camp Roberts, California, in 2015, conducting our very first outdoor test at a Department of Defense showcase. The plan was for Alex to stand about 1,000 meters away from me with the drone so I could use the prototype to take it down. I was hot and sweaty to begin with, and my nerves just went through the roof. I was clammy, my stomach in knots. I’m thinking, This is the first time I’m even authorized to turn this thing on, and oh god, it just shipped from Ohio to California. We have no idea what FedEx has done to it.
I didn’t know this at the time—luckily, because I would have passed out or thrown up—but the 50 or so spectators on hand were talking trash about our tech, saying it was rinky-dink and would never work. Honestly, I’m not surprised they felt that way. A bunch of other companies were there showing off very expensive and complex-looking devices, then they see these two yahoos from the middle of Ohio come out with a thing that looks like a rifle strapped to one of their backs. They thought we were some garage-shop goofballs. But we had kept it simple-looking intentionally, because we wanted to make sure any soldier could pick it up and use it in seconds.
The first time Alex sent the drone at me, I stopped it too far away, about 250 meters. The crowd wasn’t sure what had happened. So on the next try, I let it get about 100 meters away from me before stopping it in midair. There was silence. The entire crowd was absolutely still. People were suddenly very interested. I was flipping out, man. I played it cool—there were a lot of military people watching me—but on the inside, I was just screaming.