Drones are certainly getting smarter and more capable, but can they outwit one of nature's most menacing airborne predators? The Dutch National Police is banking on a bird of prey to come up trumps in a dogfight between new and old inhabitants of the sky, so it is training a fleet of eagles to help quell the risk of dangerous unmanned aircraft.
In October 2014, a drone owner was taking his vehicle for a spin above Magazine Beach Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when a wild hawk swooped in with its talons outstretched and knocked the aircraft out of the sky. The encounter was caught on the device's camera, and served as a cautionary tale of what can happen when drones wander into the domain of these natural predators.
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So it is therefore not much of a leap to assume that with professional training, birds of prey could serve a pretty useful purpose in helping to clear the skies of rogue aircraft. To this end, the Dutch police have enlisted the help of a raptor training company called Guard From Above to help safeguard sensitive airspace.
Some recent examples where drones have posed a threat to public safety include stifling firefighting efforts in California, a crash landing on the White House lawn and lurking around the prime minister's office in Japan. Some other approaches to stopping dangerous drones include firing nets to rein them in, radio beams to disable their control channels and firmware updates from manufactures that block flights in certain areas.
In a recent demonstration, the Guard From Above team unleashed a trained eagle in an indoor training facility, where a poor defenseless quadcopter was hovering several meters off the ground. The bird flew straight for the drone, snaffling the frame in its claws and set it down in the corner, all in one smooth motion.
And how does the eagle feel about all of this? Guard From Above says that the talons have scales to protect them when they come into contact with prey, but it has requested the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research to further investigate the potential hazards to the bird's well being.
The pilot project is expected to run for a few months, after which the Dutch Police will decide whether or not to go ahead and deploy a fleet of drone-hunting eagles to keep watch over its skies.
You can see the birds in flight in the Dutch-language video below.