Someone on my degree scheme came up with the idea of blogging about articles we read for later reference, and so I am writing about the Popular Science article, Can Birds Be Trained To Bring Down Drones? (http://www.popsci.com/can-birds-be-trained-attack-drones)
This article talks about how birds can react to UAVs, and about the use of UAVs in nature in general. For wild birds, it highlights the issue that breeding peregrine falcons can be disturbed easily, including potentially by a UAV. This will potentially be an issue in Mid Wales, as work done by Andrew Dixon in Mid Wales suggests that there is already a decline in the population of peregrine falcons in this area. I will take special care when selecting testing sites for my project.
As the use of UAVs in conjunction with falconry seems to be a relatively unexplored area as of yet, the article talks about the possibility of training birds to attack UAVs. Birds coming it to direct contact with the UAV is something I would like to avoid in my project. Although my UAV will be small and low-powered (and so with low chance of a blade injuring a bird), I will still take precautions to reduce the chance of bird injury. I will be going for the quadcopter style UAV, which will include buffers around the blades. I will also put arches above and below the rotors, to prevent birds from flying directly in to the blades. This will cause issues with the aerodynamics of the UAV, but due to the nature of my project it does not matter that my UAV will be very slow. I am mildly concerned that the bird may try to grab the UAV, but hopefully by hanging the lure a good distance below the UAV the bird will not form an association between the UAV and food and attack it. The article actually contains a quote from Roger Chastain, stating that he doesn’t believe a bird impacting a UAV would damage the bird. I would still prefer to err on the side of safety, however.
The article describes the act of training a bird to take a lure hanging from a balloon or kite. Several of the birds at the Falconry School have already been trained to do so, with no issues with the birds attacking the balloon (to my knowledge). Chris Davis is quoted in the article as saying that he’s had issues with training birds to go to a UAV, and has had issues even with balloons and kites. As the birds at the falconry centre seem quite content with flying to balloons/kites and have even been willing to fly to a UAV in test trials ran at the centre (https://harkness3d.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/dissertation-planning/), I do not foresee this posing any huge issues.
The article highlights (with the use of anecdotes and video) that birds seem to come away from encounters with UAVs in a better state than the UAVs. This would be an acceptable outcome for my project should a collision occur, as it is much easier to replace a UAV than a trained bird. I will aspire to build the UAV from durable materials, so that it could hopefully be recovered from a crash landing. My supervisor and I are looking at building the frame from foam coated in either carbon fibre, Kevlar, glass fibre, or some combination of these. Trials will need to be run on which results in the best frame.
It is pointed out in the article that by linking flying to a lure from a UAV with getting food, birds will become more comfortable around UAVs. At the Falconry School, one of the UAV trained birds has already begun to associate the loud noise that the UAV makes when switched on with getting fed, and so it becomes very eager to fly when it hears the noise (annoyingly so). It is also possible that if a bird is being trained as an imprint (i.e. raised by humans rather than its bird parents), it can be introduced to UAVs from a very young age, leading to a bird that has no fear for UAVs.