Meet RobotFalcon: Built for chasing off flocks of birds around airports

"The researchers decided to develop a falcon because they believed that little birds would get scared of it."
Nergis Firtina
The RobotFalcon.
The RobotFalcon.

Rolf F. Storms et al.  

RobotFalcon is ready to scare away the bird groups near airports.

Designed by the University of Groningen, the University of Tuscia, Roflight, Lemselobrink, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force researchers, a remote-controlled flying robot looks exactly like a peregrine falcon.

The researchers decided to develop a falcon because they believed that little birds would get scared of it.

How was RobotFalcon made?

As reported in TecXplore, The RobotFalcon is a composite material comprised of fiberglass and polypropylene that has been painted to resemble a falcon. Two propellers are mounted on the front of each wing and are propelled by an internal engine. The researchers carefully examined the flying traits of real birds before giving their model bird additions that would enable it to emulate a falcon's flight patterns.

Meet RobotFalcon: Built for chasing off flocks of birds around airports
A falcon.

Testing revealed that the RobotFalcon could replicate falcon flying and frighten birds. The robot bird was tested in the field, and after five minutes of its arrival, large flocks of birds fled; on half of these deterrence trips, it was able to empty the field in just 70 seconds. The team performed numerous tests on the same flock of birds over a three-month period and discovered no habituation — no matter how frequently they saw it, they were terrified.

What about bird strikes?

Bird strike is the collision of aircraft and birds in the air. It is one of the important events affecting flight safety and can cause great property damage and, in some cases, loss of life.

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While the impact of the majority of crashes is evident in the forward-facing parts of the aircraft, in many cases, the bird is absorbed by the aircraft's jet engine, causing damage to the blades and fuselage of the aircraft. The force of the blow depends on the weight of the striking animal, the difference in velocity during the blow, and its direction. The weight of the vehicle is often overlooked because it is often too large compared to the animal that hit it. The magnitude of the energy of the impact increases in proportion to the square of the velocity difference.

Researchers explained their project in the Journal of the Royal Society.


Collisions between birds and airplanes can damage aircraft, resulting in delays and cancellation of flights, costing the international civil aviation industry more than 1.4 billion US dollars annually. Driving away birds is therefore crucial, but the effectiveness of current deterrence methods is limited. Live avian predators can be an effective deterrent because potential prey will not habituate to them, but live predators cannot be controlled entirely. Thus, there is an urgent need for new deterrence methods. We developed the RobotFalcon, a device modelled after the peregrine falcon, and tested its effectiveness to deter flocks of corvids, gulls, starlings and lapwings. We compared its effectiveness with that of a drone, and of conventional methods routinely applied at a military airbase. 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.

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