Attrition: These Droids Are For The Birds



February 25, 2012: The South Korea government has developed a robotic vehicle designed to prevent bird strikes. The first four of these semi-autonomous vehicles patrol the fringes of runways of an airport, using lasers to detect and measure the size of flocks. Information on birds found is sent back to the human controller who supervises four of the vehicles. The controller decides what type of action to take (broadcasting various kinds of noises, like the sounds of hawks or dying birds) to scare the flock away. Ultimately, the vehicles would be allowed to make those action decisions themselves, although the vehicles would always be subject to human operator override.

The system was originally designed just for use at military airbases but it was obvious that civil aviation would also benefit from such a system. Bird strikes at military bases are potentially more dangerous, as warplanes often take off at night (when 40 percent of bird strikes occur) and are often armed with missiles or bombs.

Bird strikes are a widespread, if little publicized, problem. There are about 5,000 incidents a year. These often just mean replacing windows or canopies, or wherever the bird hit. Most of the incidents involve near misses or collisions on non-critical portions of the aircraft. But in about one percent of the incidents the damage is severe and some aircraft are lost. On average, 40-50 people a year die because of bird strikes.


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