‘Robo-raptor’ better than real birds of prey at protecting planes from pesky flocks
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, actually it is a bit of both, and it is doing a better job than real birds at keeping birds away from planes.
RobotFalcon has been developed by the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, to chase away flocks which linger near airports putting flights at risk.
The lifelike robo-raptor has been designed to resemble and mimic the movements of a peregrine falcon, the swiftest animal in the world, which hunts many species of birds.
The fibreglass bird - which has a propeller on each wing and controls on the tail for steering - weighs just half a pound and can travel more than 30mph. A camera on the head allows steering via remote control.
In new tests carried out in agricultural fields, RobotFalcon completely cleared away flocks of birds in under five minutes.
In similar tests, drones only managed to remove 80 per cent of the birds over the same time period.
Engineers said the approach was cheaper and more ethical than using real birds of prey which are often difficult to control.
Writing in the Royal Society Interface, Dr Rolf Storms said: “Breeding and training falcons is very costly, and the effectiveness of falconry is limited because falcons cannot be flown often and guiding their attacks is problematic.
“Instead of live falcons, models that mimic predators visually and behaviourally may be a promising way to deter birds, retaining the advantages 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 falcons.”
Bird strikes cost the airline industry around £1.2 billion each 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 it hit a flock of Canada 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 there are around 3,000 strikes or near misses each year in UK airspace.
Current methods for removing birds involve shining lasers into flocks, using pyrotechnics or playing the distress calls of birds. But flocks generally become used to such methods over time and return to the area.
The Dutch team said the RobotFalcon outperformed other methods of chasing away corvids such as crows, gulls, starlings and lapwings.
The robot kept birds away from the area for up to four hours compared to less than two hours for other methods.