Could this robot falcon be the solution to prevent bird attacks?


Editor’s Note — Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and more.

(CNN) – Airplanes and birds have been sharing the skies since their first flight in 1903.

However, to say that this has led to some problems, especially in recent decades, is an understatement.

Collisions between birds and airplanes kill thousands of birds every year.

Such incidents, known as bird strikes, can also cause aircraft damage, as well as flight delays and cancellations, costing the International Civil Aviation Organization $1.4 billion annually.

Airport wildlife management teams now use a variety of deterrents, such as drones and birds of prey — including hawks — to try to scare the birds away from airport areas. However, raising and training falcons is not exactly cheap, and managing the birds can be difficult.

But could a robot peregrine falcon developed by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands be the solution?

Very effective

RobotFalcon has been developed to help prevent bird attacks.

M. Papadopoulou

Made of fiberglass and expanded polypropylene (EPP), the RobotFalcon, with a wingspan of 70 centimeters, mimics the movements of a large and powerful falcon, and has proven to be very effective at keeping birds away in a recently published study.

Controlled from the ground, the bird has a propeller on each wing and a camera mounted on its head, giving you a “first-person view while driving.”

In a series of tests in 2019 in the area surrounding the city of Workum in the Netherlands, the RobotFalcon managed to clear all the flocks from the fields within five minutes of the start of the flight, with 50% of the sites cleared in 70 seconds. According to Rolf Storms, one of the authors of the report.

Compared to a drone, the RobotFalcon, which weighs 0.245 kilograms (about 0.5 lb), was found to be the superior of the two, with the drone only managing to clear 80% of the birds in the same amount of time. .

“There is a need for new methods of deterring birds,” says the report, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. “And we show that RobotFalcon can make a significant contribution to filling that niche.

“It cleared fields of corvids, gulls, starlings and warblers successfully and quickly, with stray flocks out of sight for hours.

“RobotFalcon was more effective than a drone: it was more successful, and it drove away flocks faster.”

Regarding comparisons with a real bird of prey, the authors stated that the RobotFalcon was a “practical and ethical solution” with “the advantages of live raptors but without the limitations.”

However, the report also acknowledges limitations with the RobotFalcon, noting that it must be operated by trained pilots, that flights cannot be made in rain or strong winds and that they last 15 minutes. battery life

Successful deterrence

RobotFalcon, with a wingspan of 70 centimeters, imitates the movements of a real falcon.

RobotFalcon, with a wingspan of 70 centimeters, imitates the movements of a real falcon.

RF Storms

He also notes that the bird was not as effective at scaring off large birds, such as geese or herons, so a larger robot that resembles a bird such as an eagle would have to be developed.

“Across the field, the response of the birds (as measured by the distance they started the flight, the initial flight distance) did not change,” Storms told CNN Travel.

“This could indicate a lack of bird habituation or the fact that we are turning away new naïve birds every day due to bird population turnover. Either way, it shows that the method remains effective over a long period of time.”

Storm suggested that airports and air bases use the RobotFalcon in conjunction with existing deterrence methods “for maximum effect.”

This is not the first time a robotic falcon has been designed to repel birds from an airport environment.

In 2017, Canada’s Edmonton International Airport became the first airport in the world to integrate a full suite of unmanned aerial system services into daily airport operations when it tested the CFS Robird, designed by Dutch company Clear Flight Solutions.

The news of this latest investigation comes shortly after a bird crash on a United Airlines flight bound for Miami International Airport returned to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport earlier this month.

In a statement released after the October 14 incident, the airline confirmed that the Boeing 737-900 had landed safely and that a new aircraft had been assigned to the flight.

The FAA maintains a Wildlife Strike Database to track incidents, which have increased in recent years, from about 1,800 in 1990 to 16,000 in 2018, according to the database.

“Expanding wildlife populations, increases in the number of aircraft movements, trends toward faster and quieter aircraft, and the expansion of the aviation community have all contributed to the increase in observed wildlife strikes,” the FAA site says.

Pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III crash-landed US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River in 2019 after both of the plane’s engines were knocked out by a double-bird.

Image credit above: RF Storms

CNN’s Howard Slutsken, Marnie Hunter and Sara Smart contributed to this report.