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How Peregrine Falcons are Helping the Drone War

Oxford researchers are studying the birds of prey.

How Peregrine Falcons are Helping the Drone War
"Researchers at Oxford University have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles."

University of Oxford - 12/4/17: 

"The findings, which overturn previous assumptions that peregrines' aerial hunting follows simple geometric rules, could be applied to the design of small, visually guided drones that can take down other 'rogue' drones in settings such as airports or prisons.

The research, initially funded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory and published open access in the journal PNAS, may also give scientists greater insight into the pursuit behaviors of other predatory species – in the air, in water, or on the ground."


It's amazing with all of our technological advancements and simulation capabilities that some of our most useful research comes from studying naturally-occurring wildlife behaviors. In this instance, Oxford researchers learning more about the best strategies to shoot down drones by studying the way peregrine falcons can intercept moving targets that "don't want to be caught."

Leading this study is the Oxford Zoology Department's Flight Group Professor Graham Taylor. In describing the research, he says "Falcons are classic aerial predators, synonymous with agility and speed. Our GPS tracks and on-board videos show how peregrine falcons intercept moving targets that don't want to be caught. Remarkably, it turns out that they do this in a similar way to most guided missiles." 

The researchers and falconers control drones and throw dummy targets for the falcons to track. They're then able to apply mathematical simulation to their movements and better understand the dynamics of their attacks. Peregrine falcons are able to hone in on their targets even though they're going at a lower speed, and that principle is what's so enticing about the research.   

We're excited to see how these studies are used in the fight against foreign drones. There's been recent legislation aimed at prohibiting drones flying near military installations, going as far as allowing the installation to shoot down these drones the moment they're capable of being a threat. 

The co-author of the study, Dr. Caroline Brighton, said they spend "four field seasons flying falcons in the Welsh Hills," and in a highly-simulated, virtual world, that is pretty cool. 

Bonus: BBC Footage of Peregrine Falcon Sky Dives