Throughout history, humans have employed falcons as lethal hunters of other animals. Now those raptors are being sent after drones. It turns out that many of the skills feathered predators use to find a tasty lunch can be applied to the developing field of drone defense.
A U.S. Air Force-funded study by zoology researchers at Oxford University suggests that the means by which a peregrine falcon tracks its quarry could be effective in defending against drones that threaten troops, police or airports. The researchers fitted the falcons with miniature video cameras and GPS receivers to track their angle and method of attack on other birds, or on bait being towed through the air by a drone.
In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., the falcons’ approach to intercepting its target aligned closely with the rules of proportional navigation, a guidance system used by visually-directed missiles. The principle is such that a missile–or a falcon on the hunt–will reach a target as long as its line-of-sight remains unobstructed while it closes in. The earliest AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles, dating to the 1950s, used this technique with a rotating mirror to “see” the target.
A key difference, however, is that falcons adjust their angle of attack to compensate for their slower speeds–which is where drones come in. The work, the researchers suggested, could be applied to the development of small, visually-guided drones that can disable other drones. “We think that the finer details of how peregrines operate could certainly find application in small drones designed to remove other drones from protected airspace,” Professor Graham Taylor, the principal investigator, wrote in an email.
The research involved data from 55 attack flights in Wales with falconers and a certified drone operator. “An elegant convergence” of raptor behavior and missile guidance law For soldiers on the battlefield and even law enforcement at home, the threat of drone attack has grown as every day passes–as has a desire for a working defense.
In July, the Pentagon authorized 133 U.S. military installations to shoot down private or commercial drones that threaten their airspace. That move followed a decision earlier this year to ban aerial drones near these facilities. Cheap, small drones have become a handy weapon for militants, with the Defense Department working to field new technology and techniques to protect troops and equipment.
To date, the Pentagon has explored a variety of methods to deter hostile drones. These range from the most basic–machine gun fire–to more sophisticated approaches including lasers, frequency jamming to render them inoperable and more advanced techniques to actually gain control of the drone. The application to drone defense “emerged naturally through the course of the study” given research by several police forces to eliminate drones using trained raptors, the authors said.
Police in the Netherlands, for example, have studied whether eagles can be an effective means to capture and disable small drones. “The problem with this approach is that raptors are only motivated to chase targets if they are hungry or defending a territory, and spinning rotor blades pose as much of a threat to a birds’ talons as they do to our own fingers,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Keeping a defense team of hungry raptors on call isn’t practical, and flying them at large multi-rotors isn’t ethical.” (The Air Force didn’t immediately return a request for comment)
Taylor called the study’s findings “an elegant convergence” of raptor behavior and missile guidance law, “which reflects how natural selection and engineering design are constrained similarly by maths and physics.
It’s also quite beautiful how well the model fits the data, and thrilling for me as a mathematically-minded biologist to see how the flight trajectories of real birds engaged in real attacks emerge from the equations that ultimately govern them.”
Donald Trump in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 21.
President Donald Trump said that expanded access to broadband internet service in rural areas will be part of the infrastructure plan he will submit to Congress, helping to bridge a digital divide that leaves small towns behind. Get the latest on global politics in your inbox, every day. Get our newsletter daily.
“I will be including a provision in our infrastructure proposal — $1 trillion proposal, you’ll be seeing it very shortly — to promote and foster, enhance broadband access for rural America also,” Trump said in remarks Wednesday evening at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after touring agricultural facilities on campus, the first of two speeches planned that evening. “We will rebuild rural America.”
Access to high-speed internet has become a concern of farm lobbies1 worried that lower adoption rates in rural areas is slowing economic development. Only 55 percent of rural residents have access to downloads faster than 25 megabits per second, compared to 94 percent in urban areas, according to a 2016 Federal Communications Commission2 report. Trump’s plan to use $200 billion3 in federal funds to leverage investment in national infrastructure improvement has prompted rural groups to fight for broadband’s inclusion, arguing that such access is a 21st-century version of the electrification and water projects that brought prosperity to sparsely populated areas in the past.
“We have to make sure American farmers and their families, wherever they may be, wherever they may go, have the infrastructure projects that they need to compete and grow,” Trump said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters while aboard Air Force One en route to the event that private investors haven’t found rural areas as profitable as urban ones, potentially making a greater federal role in expanding broadband appropriate.
“We think we ought to have the same push to have broadband connectivity all over the country because in the 21st century it is just as important as a telephone, water, sewer, roads,” Perdue said. “It has become an infrastructure of necessity.”
Trump also used his Kirkwood remarks to praise farmers, whose work he called “noble,” and to send off former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who resigned his post to become the U.S. ambassador to China.
The president decried unfair trade practices he said are hurting U.S. agriculture and said he’d defend the use of biofuels. Iowa is the nation’s top producer of ethanol, along with corn, soybeans and hogs.
“We will protect the corn-based ethanol and biofuels that power our country,” he said.
- ^ Farm Group Expresses Concern Over Proposed USDA Budget Cuts (www.bloomberg.com)
- ^ Broadband access (www.broadbandmap.gov)
- ^ Trump Repackages Obama Council as ‘New’ in Infrastructure Plan (www.bloomberg.com)
Satcom Direct said Monday2 that it will highlight the potential advantages of the Global Xpress network for organizations in need of maximum connectivity and mobility at a Middle East Business Aviation Association-hosted industry exhibition. GX is designed to facilitate wideband connectivity for airborne, land and naval operations. David Greenhill, president of Satcom Direct, said the company aims to help address connectivity requirements of government and military clients with Inmarsat’s GX network.
Florida-based Satcom Direct provides global connectivity services for business and general aviation, military, government and heads of state aircraft operations as well as remote, disaster recovery and large-scale missions.