The Dutch National police have joined forces with ‘Guard From Above’, a raptor-training security firm based in The Hague, to keep wayward drones from causing trouble. As the use of drones increasingly worries everyone from air traffic control and law enforcement to firefighters, Netherlands’ national police have aligned themselves with a group that purely hates flying robots on principle, the bald eagle.
Guard From Above‘s CEO, Sjoerd Hoogendoorn, recently described the project as, ‘a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem’. he and the company’s chief operating officer, Ben de Keijzer, train birds of prey to catch unauthorized unmanned aircraft. Hoogendoorn has a background in private security, and de Keijzer is in bird-handling and training.
Often drones lose their flying privileges because local birds feel crowded, ‘the drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying–but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests,’ comments LeBaron, who’s seen the behavior in Barnacle Geese as well as raptors like Ospreys. ‘The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.’
LeBaron is the director of the organization’s Christmas bird count, a crowdsourced wildlife census that tracks US bird populations. The birds, he said, are in many cases demonstrating that they have superior onboard equipment to the drones.
‘What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors,’ says LeBaron. ‘They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.’
Humans, of course, only see rotors as a blur, LeBaron suspects that the eagles can make out the complete movement and thus have no trouble avoiding injury. It doesn’t hurt, either, that attacking a drone the way a bird might attack another bird is usually effective. ‘Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back; with the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.’
Using birds to take down drones is that latest in a series of attempts to tackle unwanted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS). In Japan, drones using nets have been developed to capture rogue UAV that might threaten disruptions along flight paths. A team of British contractors have developed a ‘death ray’ for drones that can disable them in flight.