Caltech Trains UAVs To Steer Birds Away from Airports

 - August 9, 2018, 2:00 AM

Researchers at Caltech have constructed an algorithm allowing for a UAV to herd birds away from an airport. According to a statistic noted in the researchers' report, the FAA documented 142,000 wildlife strikes between 1990 and 2013, with birds contributing involvement in 97 percent of the cases. Inspired by US Airways Flight 1549 when Chesley Sullenberger landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese, the researchers hope their findings can prevent future bird-strike incidents.

Computer models of bird flock behavior, including velocity matching and collision avoidance, contributed to the development of the algorithm. The algorithm permits a UAV to fly next to flocks of birds in an effort to manipulate their paths away from aircraft traffic. Caltech researchers noted if a UAV is too far away from a flock, then the flock will not respond with movement. Conversely, if a UAV is too close, then the flock might scatter and become uncontrollable.

The algorithm mirrors a threat to the birds as it directs the UAV to a close proximity, but not so close that the birds disperse. Caltech's research team initially tested the algorithm on bird flocks in Korea and discovered birds could be herded by flying gradually and alongside a flock. Further experiments are still needed to validate the herding algorithm, Caltech said.