As big as our planes are, birds can actually pose a danger to them. Not because we’re worried about birds attacking planes, but rather because of what is known as “bird strikes”, where birds (or other animals that fly) crash into planes or get sucked into the engine of a plane which can cause damage to it.

So the question is, how do we keep birds away from airports to reduce the chances of bird strikes? According to researchers at Caltech (via TechCrunch), automated drones could be the answer. Drones can actually be used right now, but it has been pointed out that drones that require piloting by humans can be expensive and limited as it would require the hiring of qualified pilots.

By using automated drones, it means that these drones can act as sentries without needing too much human intervention. The idea came to Soon-Jo Chung after reading about an incident in 2009 involving US Airways. According to Chung, “It made me think that next time might not have such a happy ending. So I started looking into ways to protect airspace from birds by leveraging my research areas in autonomy and robotics.”

However there are challenges to this idea, namely predicting where a flock of birds might be headed, and how to influence their behavior. For example flying the drone too far won’t do anything, but flying them too close can result in scattering of their formation which would make things even more chaotic and worse.

That being said, the video above seems to show that the researchers have had some success with their model, but of course more work needs to be done before it can actually be implemented for real.

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