Collision with birds is a serious problem for commercial aircraft, costing the industry billions of dollars and killing thousands of animals each year. New research shows that robotic imitation of a peregrine falcon can be an effective way to keep it off its flight paths.
Worldwide, so-called bird strikes are estimated to be costing the civil aviation industry Approximately 1.4 billion US dollars annually. Nearby habitats are often deliberately unattractive to birds, but airports also rely on a variety of deterrents designed to scare them away, such as loud fireworks or loudspeakers blasting distress calls of common species.
However, the effectiveness of these methods tends to decline over time, as birds are desensitized by repeated exposure, he says Charlotte HemelrigkHe is a professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Live falcons or blinding lasers are sometimes used, she says, to disperse flocks, but this is controversial because it can harm the animals, and raising and training falcons is not cheap.
Birds do not discriminate [RobotFalcon] From a real falcon, apparently.”
—Charlotte Hemelrijk, University of Groningen
In an effort to find a more practical and permanent solution, Hemelrijk and his colleagues designed a robotic peregrine falcon that could be used to chase flocks away from airports. The device is about the same size and shape as a real falcon, and its fiberglass and carbon body has been painted to mimic the markings of its real-life counterpart.
Instead of flapping like a bird, RobotFalcon relies on two small, battery-powered propellers on its wings, allowing it to travel at about 30 miles per hour for up to 15 minutes at a time. A human operator controls the machine remotely from a hawk-eye view via a camera placed on top of the robot’s head.
To see how effective the RobotFalcon was at scaring off birds, the researchers tested it against a conventional quadcopter Drone More than three months of field testing near the city the work. They also compared their results with 15 years of data collected by Royal Netherlands Air Force that evaluated the effectiveness of conventional deterrence methods such as fireworks and distress calls.
Falcon Airport drone flight paths for grazing herdYouTube
In a paper published in Interface Journal of the Royal SocietyThe team showed that RobotFalcon cleared bird fields faster and more effectively than a drone. It also kept the birds away from the fields for longer than the distress calls, the most effective of the traditional methods.
There was no evidence of the birds becoming accustomed to the robotic falcon over the three months of testing, Hemelrejk says, and the researchers also found that the birds showed behavioral patterns associated with escaping from predators more frequently with the robot than with the drone. “The way to interact with the RobotFalcon is very similar to a real falcon,” says Himelrijk. “The birds don’t seem to distinguish it from a real falcon.”
However, other attempts to use falcon-imitating robots to disperse the birds have not yielded promising results. Morgan Drabek Hamsher, a research wildlife biologist at the Department of Agriculture, and colleagues A paper in it Scientific reports Last year they described how they pitted a robotic falcon on a flapping-winged peregrine falcon against a quadcopter and a remote-controlled fixed-wing aircraft.
They found that the robotic hawk was the least effective of the three at scaring away turkey vultures, with the quadcopter scaring away the most birds and the remote-controlled aircraft eliciting the fastest response. Despite the Predator’s silhouette, the Eagles did not recognize the Predator UAS [unmanned aircraft system] as a threat,” Drabik Hamchir wrote in an email.
Zihao Wang, an associate lecturer at the University of Sydney in Australia who is developing UAS to deter birds, says RobotFalcon appears to be effective at dispersing flocks. But he notes that its wingspan is about twice the diagonal length of the compared quadcopter, which means it creates a much larger silhouette when viewed from an avian perspective. This means that birds can react to their size more than their shape, and would like to see RobotFalcon compare to a similar size drone in the future.
Wang adds that the unique design also means that the robot needs an experienced and specially trained operator, which can make it difficult to roll out to scale. A possible solution might be to make the system autonomous, he says, but it’s unclear how easy that will be.
Automating RobotFalcon probably isn’t feasible, Hemelrijk says, due to the strict regulations around the use of self-driving drones near airports as well as the sheer technical complexity. Their current operator is a falconer with a lot of experience with how falcons target their prey, she says, and creating an independent system that could recognize and target flocks of birds in a similar way would be very challenging.
But while the need for skilled operators is a limitation, Hemelrijk points out that most airports already have full-time staff dedicated to bird deterrence, who can be trained. Given the apparent lack of habituation and ability to chase birds in a certain direction – so that they stray off runways – she thinks a robotic falcon could be a useful addition to her arsenal.
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