Skip to Content
Smart cities

Researchers taught a drone to herd birds away from airports

August 7, 2018

A new algorithm can pilot a drone to guide flocks from away from busy airspace.

The current method: Birds pose a serious danger to planes—just ask pilot Chelsey Sullenberger and the survivors of US Airways flight 1549 in 2009. Airports employ all sorts of tactics to scare birds off, from loud noises to lasers, and even trained falcons. But they’re pretty costly, and can be unreliable.

The new method: In a recent paper in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, engineers from Caltech describe how they built on sheep herding algorithms to create software that could autonomously control a drone. The team learned how to gauge the proper distance between the drone and the animals by observing how multiple flocks of birds interact with each other.

The results: The team found the system to be effective in tests for flocks of dozens of birds with only one drone (see gif). The technology could help prevent accidents like Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” landing.

Deep Dive

Smart cities

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)
baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)

A day in the life of a Chinese robotaxi driver

We spoke to Liu Yang, who has one of the strangest jobs around: to sit in the passenger seat and monitor how self-driving cars cope with Beijing’s streets.

Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil
Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil

We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

A singular focus on high-tech will dilute the vibrancy of our cities and limit their potential.

Marseilles surveillance cameras
Marseilles surveillance cameras

Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state

The boisterous, rebellious port city is trying to fight the growing ubiquity of policing cameras.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.