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Researchers develop RobotFalcon to scare birds away from airports

The RobotFalcon is modeled after the peregrine falcon.

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The RobotFalcon in action. (M. Papadopoulou/University of Groningen via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

Researchers have worked out a way to get pesky flocks of birds in a flap - the RobotFalcon.

Collisions between birds and airplanes can damage aircraft, resulting in delays and cancellation of flights, costing the international civil aviation industry more than £1.2 billion annually.

The University of Groningen and partners, therefore, developed an artificial raptor, inspired specifically by a peregrine falcon.

Made from fiberglass and polypropylene, and reinforced with carbon fiber, the fake predator is controlled from the ground and can beam back live pictures of its flight.

Field testing in the Netherlands showed that all flocks were successfully deterred by the RobotFalcon within five minutes after it started its flight, with half of the deterrence flights resulting in fields being free of birds within 70 seconds.

The fake falcon was also found to be so realistic, that birds were still being scared away after three months.

In a study published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface, the group reported: "We developed the RobotFalcon, a device modeled after the peregrine falcon, and tested its effectiveness to deter flocks of corvids, gulls, starlings and lapwings.

"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.

"To this end, the RobotFalcon was flown on several bird species in an agrarian environment (Workum, The Netherlands).

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

(R. F. Storms via SWNS)

"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.

"The RobotFalcon outperformed the drone and the best conventional method at the airbase (distress calls). Importantly, there was no evidence that bird flocks habituated to the RobotFalcon over the course of the fieldwork.

"We conclude that the RobotFalcon is a practical and ethical solution to drive away bird flocks with all advantages of live predators but without their limitations.

"There is a need for novel methods to deter birds, and we show that the RobotFalcon can make a major contribution to filling that niche."

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