A quadcopter learned to chase pigeons away


Swiss engineers have taught a quadcopter to chase pigeons away from the roof of a building. They used a camera on the roof that detects pigeons, calculates their coordinates and sends a drone to that point, which drives the birds away with its noise, without causing them physical harm. An article describing the development and testing has been published in IEEE Access.

There are different ways to scare away birds, including pigeons. If you need to protect a small area, anti-pigeon spikes are suitable. For a large area, the sounds of birds of prey or the birds of prey themselves are used. In 2018, researchers showed that drones are also suitable for this purpose. They suggested using a pair of quadcopters in which one hovers at high altitude and helps track the dynamics of the flocks to the second, which directly chases the birds away.

Engineers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, led by Dario Floreano, have created and tested a method to fend off pigeons from the roofs of buildings in the city. They suggested placing cameras on rooftops that would detect the birds and send the drone out only when it does, so as not to waste its battery power.

The camera is able to rotate to view the entire roof and zoom in on the image. Frames from it are fed to the Faster R-CNN neural network, which is trained to detect pigeons in the frame and mark them by framing. Since the camera is static and the pigeons are about the same size, the engineers taught the algorithm to calculate the coordinates of the pigeons from the size and location of the frames, which are given to the drone along with the command to fly away. Even a few meters before the quadcopter approaches, the pigeons begin to disperse because of its noise, so the inaccuracy of coordinate calculation does not greatly affect the effectiveness of the method.

The engineers recorded and analyzed daytime pigeon activity without using the drone for 21 days and with the drone for 5 days. The analysis showed that the drone reduced the average and maximum time that flocks of birds spent on the roof, which confirmed the effectiveness of the method.

Drones can not only deter birds, but also help them. In 2020, Israeli ornithologists and the military managed to use a drone to feed a motherless white-winged seagull chick.

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