Flying by plane is considered the safest mode of transportation. However, there are risks that can endanger the plane, especially birds. A flock of geese or other birds can cause a plane disaster. Bird collisions with aircraft cost billions of dollars each year and also cause many delayed or canceled flights. Scientists have come up with a simple way to scare flocks of birds away from the area where planes fly.

RobotFalcon as an effective solution

The solution is to be a robotic flying predator. A team partnering with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands decided to tackle the problem by developing an artificial raptor. The appearance of this flying machine was inspired by the peregrine falcon. The likeness is so believable that the birds will not recognize that it is not a real bird of prey.

The RobotFalcon (a), a view from the RobotFalcon’s underside during flight (b) and an example of its view during flight (c). Credit: Researchers

It is made of fiberglass, polypropylene and carbon fiber. The robotic falcon is controlled from the ground and the pilot sees a live image of its flight. It’s similar to controlling a drone. The RobotFalcon was tested in the Netherlands and was able to drive away entire flocks of birds within five minutes. Half of the birds flew away within 70 seconds. The fake falcon scared the birds so much that they didn’t return for 3 months after it first took to the skies.

“We developed the RobotFalcon and tested its effectiveness to deter flocks of corvids, gulls, starlings and lapwings,” the group reported in a study published in The Royal Society Interface journal.

“In this field study, we tested the effectiveness of the RobotFalcon to drive away bird flocks by measuring the proportion of flocks it drove away, how fast fields were cleared from flocks, how long it took for them to return, and whether habituation occurred.”

Credit: M. Papadopoulou/University of Groningen/SWNS

“The behavior of the bird flocks was studied upon exposure to the RobotFalcon, to a normal drone, and in control trials without any disturbance.

“We further compared the effectiveness of the RobotFalcon with the conventional methods in current use at a military airport such as distress calls and pyrotechnics.

“The RobotFalcon scared away bird flocks from fields immediately, and these fields subsequently remained free of bird flocks for hours.

An ethical and practical solution

Using a robotic falcon is a very effective and yet ethical solution. The only problem is the fact that the RobotFalcon cannot be launched during very strong winds. Can a robotic falcon effectively scare even large birds such as geese or herons? If not, scientists could develop a robotic eagle, for example. Perhaps in the future, robotic flying raptors will be a regular part of every airport.

Images: M. Papadopoulou/University of Groningen/SWNS