High Tech Drone Scarecrows Can Make Airports Safer

If you pay attention to airplane news — or you watched the film Sully — you know planes have problems with birds. Sully was about US Airways flight 1549 which struck a flock of geese and ditched in the Hudson river.  Engineers at Caltech say that was the inspiration for them to develop a control algorithm that enables a single drone scarecrow to herd flocks of birds away from airports.

Airports have tried a lot of things to discourage birds ranging from trained falcons to manually-piloted drones. Apparently, herding birds is harder than you would think. If you fly the drone too far from a flock, it will ignore the threat. If you get too close, the flock will scatter making it both threaten a larger area and harder to control.

Looking at the math in the paper, it is interesting to see how they used studies of flock movement, defined the problem, and developed both the mathematical models and an algorithm. They actually did real-world tests with both egrets and loons, as well as simulations.

We usually think of airports as a no-fly zone for drones, but could we see officially-sanctioned drones around airports soon? Maybe, but there’s a long way to go from these mathematical models to a practical system. You’d need to identify bird flocks reliably. Most drones don’t have a lot of stamina, and internal combustion engine-powered drones are noisy. It could take a fair number of drones to keep surrounding an airport at all hours.

However, we are always glad to see a practical use for drones. This one is nicer to think about than the last one we looked at. At least the birds won’t have to deal with a flamethrower.

8 thoughts on “High Tech Drone Scarecrows Can Make Airports Safer

  1. >>We usually think of airports as a no-fly zone for drones
    You just gotta play by the same traffic rules as everyone else in the flight pattern.

    You’d think gas powered drones noise would be a selling point for annoying fowl. If the neighbors can get used to turbines and turbo props a 2-stroke at a couple hundred feet should barely register.

  2. Figure out how Tom Mabe did this prank with a drone and instead of a Halloween ghost replace it with a “raptor-bird” disguise with a sound effect generator doing a screeching hawk or falcon. Or make it an owl. Then just target the large female or which ever bird is leading the flock and the rest is nature. The leader will take off and the rest will follow her. You can herd or coral them with two or more working in tandem.


    1. He did it with a hex-copter and 150′ (45 m) of fishing line. This disguise may be too heavy for a quad-copter. The higher the lifter the less noise heard from it by the targets on the ground. Don’t fly this next to guard dogs. They some how are not that gullible and will attack it if flown too low. Maybe your friend who is good with art projects can make you a convincing rapture from lightweight Styrofoam form, complete with painted on convincing look. You could mount a small speaker, sound generator, and a 9v battery in the body. It would play this sound on an endless loop: https://youtu.be/nthVnuH4tuE

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