LOOK: This New ‘Robot Falcon’ Could Save Birds and Humans Alike

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by VINCENT JANNINK/AFP via Getty Images)

A few days before Christmas 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright wheeled their gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane onto a monorail track near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville hopped into the minuscule cockpit, started the engine, and at 10:35 a.m., the plane took flight. The tiny aircraft was airborne for a mere 12 seconds, traveling only 120 feet, but the brief flight marked the birth of modern aviation.

Since that day, air travel has become an everyday occurrence – but not without a price. With the rise in air travel came the rise in bird strikes, or collisions between planes and birds, causing thousands of avian deaths per year.

To make matters worse, the frequency of bird strikes has increased exponentially in recent years. While around 1,800 birds were killed by plane in 1990, a jaw-dropping 17,000 fell victim to planes in 2019 alone. Not to mention the $1.4 billion shelled out each year to repair damage from bird strikes.

Now, scientists hope to combat this growing problem with a unique solution: Robot Falcons.

Why Use Robot Falcons?

A robot the exact size and shape of a bird, painted to look like a falcon with tiny propellers attached to the wings? It’s a little odd, but undeniably interesting. But why robots?

Well, Robot Falcons came as the result of a great deal of trial and error. Airport wildlife management teams have used drones and real-life birds of prey in an attempt to scare birds away from airports and thus prevent bird strikes.

Drones, however, weren’t as effective as they hoped, and real falcons are both expensive and difficult to train, especially for such a specific task. In response, scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands came up with an ingenious solution: why not combine them?

“There is a need for novel methods to deter birds,” scientists wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. “And we show that the Robot Falcon can make a major contribution to filling that niche.”

During a series of tests, scientists were delighted to discover that their Robot Falcon was an immense success. The robotic raptor managed to scare away every bird in the immediate area within five minutes. Fifty percent of them fled the area in just over a minute!

“It cleared fields from corvids, gulls, starlings, and lapwings successfully and fast, with deterred flocks staying away for hours,” the report continued. “The Robot Falcon was more effective than a drone. Its success was higher, and it deterred flocks faster.”