“Robo-raptor” better than real birds of prey in protecting planes from annoying flocks

Falcon robot

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, it’s actually a little bit of both, and it’s doing a better job than real birds at keeping birds off planes.

RobotFalcon was developed by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands to chase away flocks that linger near airports putting flights at risk.

The realistic bird of prey has been designed to resemble and mimic the movements of a peregrine falcon, the fastest animal in the world, which hunts many species of birds.

The fiberglass bird – which has a propeller on each wing and controls on the tail for steering – weighs only half a kilo and can travel at more than 30 miles per hour. A camera on the head allows steering via remote control.

In new tests carried out in agricultural fields, RobotFalcon completely wiped out the flocks of birds in less than five minutes.

In similar tests, the drones were only able to remove 80% of the birds over the same period of time.

Engineers said the approach was cheaper and more ethical than using real birds of prey, which are often difficult to control.

Writing on the Royal Society Interface, Dr Rolf Storms said: “The breeding and training of falcons is very expensive and the effectiveness of falconry is limited because hawks cannot be piloted often and leading their attacks is problematic.

“Instead of live hawks, models that visually and behaviorally mimic predators can be a promising way to deter birds while retaining the benefits of a live predator, but with fewer practical limitations.

“It has the advantage that it can be precisely steered to target a flock and can be flown more frequently than live hawks.”

Falcon robot

Falcon robot

Falcon robot

Falcon robot

Bird strikes cost the airline industry around £ 1.2 billion a year and can be extremely dangerous.

Although planes and engines are designed to withstand collisions with birds, hitting multiple or large birds, such as geese, can cause serious problems.

In 2009, a US Airways plane was forced to make an emergency landing after hitting a flock of Canadian geese shortly after takeoff.

All passengers and crew survived after Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed the plane on the Hudson River.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show that there are around 3,000 strikes or near misses every year in UK airspace.

Current methods of removing birds involve the use of bright lasers in flocks, the use of fireworks, or the reproduction of bird distress calls. But flocks generally get used to such methods over time and return to the area.

The Dutch team said RobotFalcon has surpassed other methods of chasing away corvids such as crows, seagulls, starlings and lapwings.

The robot kept the birds away from the area for up to four hours compared to less than two hours for other methods.

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