No matter how many regulations are put in place, drones are cheap enough now that frequent misuse is becoming the norm. There’s no good way of dealing with a dangerous drone: you can jam its radios to force it to autoland, or maybe try using an even bigger drone to capture it inside a giant net. In either of these cases, however, you run the risk of having the drone go completely out of control, which is even more dangerous.
Or, you can be like the Dutch National Police, and train eagles to take down drones for you.
The video, as you probably noticed, is in Dutch, but here’s what I’ve been able to piece together: the Dutch police (like police everywhere) know that drones are going to become even more of a problem than they already are, so they’ve been testing ways of dealing with a drone in an emergency, like if a drone is preventing an air ambulance from landing. The police are looking into electronic solutions, but also physical ones, including both nets and trained eagles.
The Dutch police have partnered with Guard From Above, a raptor training company based in The Hague, to determine whether eagles could be used as intelligent, adaptive anti-drone weapon systems. The eagles are specially trained to identify and capture drones, although from the way most birds of prey react to drones, my guess is that not a lot of training was necessary. After snatching the drone out of the sky, the eagles instinctively find a safe area away from people to land and try take a couple confused bites out of their mechanical prey before their handlers can reward them with something a little less plastic-y. The advantage here is that with the eagles, you don’t have to worry about the drone taking off out of control or falling on people, since the birds are very good at mid-air intercepts as well as bringing the drone to the ground without endangering anyone.
While the eagles are (unsurprisingly) very competent at taking out something the size of a DJI Phantom, for larger drones the safety of the bird seems like it should be a concern: my guess is that large carbon fiber props could do damage to a bird’s legs or toes, and at least here in the United States, that would be a big problem, because eagles and many other kinds of bird are protected species. The video apparently mentions something about designing a protection system for the birds, which is good. Even so, I doubt that using attack eagles as drone interceptors will ever turn out to be a practical solution in most places, but since I got to write an article about using attack eagles as drone interceptors (!), as far as I’m concerned, it’s been totally worth it.
According to the Dutch Police, these tests should last a few months, at which point they’ll decide whether using the eagles in this way is an effective and appropriate means of preventing unwanted drone use.
Update: Here’s what Guard From Above says in an FAQ about potential dangers to the birds:
IS IT DANGEROUS FOR THE BIRDS?
In nature, birds of prey often overpower large and dangerous prey. Their talons have scales, which protect them, naturally, from their victims’ bites. Of course, we are continuously investigating any extra possible protective measures we can take in order to protect our birds.
The Dutch National Police has asked the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientifi c Research (TNO) to research the possible impact on the birds’ claws. The results are not yet known. We are working closely with the Dutch National Police on the development of our services
[ Netherlands National Police ] via [ Reddit ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.