Sep 8, 2014 | By Alec

Are birds a menace? People living in residential areas might disagree, but people working in waste disposal, on farms or at airports will likely prefer to call them their sworn enemies. It's exactly why scarecrows are a staple in any farming region: to scare off the birds. But now a Dutch team of engineers and students is working to develop a 3D printed, flying and menacing scarecrow-like construction that is already proving to be very effective at spooking birds. Meet the 'Robird', a 3D printed flying construction that mimics birds of prey.

The mastermind behind this cool engineering product is Dutchman Nico Nijenhuis, a graduate from the Technical University of Twente. His robotic hawks are designed to trick any hungry birds visiting airports, waste dumps and so on, into thinking that they themselves are about to be devoured. Tests have shown that birds recognize certain areas as the hunting grounds for birds-of-prey, so they will avoid these in the future. As Nijenhuis explained, 'Birds are not only a nuisance, they can also be a serious threat to safety in aviation. The Robird is an environmentally-friendly solution for all your bird-related problems.'

Nijenhuis has started his own business names Clear Flight Solutions, and hopes to find customers in the aviation and waste management industries. While his flying Peregrine Falcon and Eagle lookalikes are currently remote controlled, he hopes to be able to realize fully autonomous, drone-like birds by the end of the year. This endeavour grew out of his master's thesis for applied physics and fluid dynamics. His professor encouraged him to look into developing a working and realistic prototype of a flying mechanical bird. While that might sound straightforward, it isn't as especially the flapping wings are particularly difficult to mimic. As Nijenhuis told reporters of Wired:

From a scientific point of view, we don't truly understand flapping-wing flight. When wings are fixed, we're fine. We can run tests and calculate forces and as a result have been able to develop planes that take us all over the globe. But the minute wings start moving, we really have a problem. It's all about very complex, three-dimensional flow. What a bird actually does is so complex that it's incredibly difficult to mimic.

To achieve realistically-looking flight, flexibility became key. Rather than just having to stiff wings flapping up and down, Nijenhuis developed foam wings that can deform upwards and downwards during flapping movements. When combined with stabilization software and a wide range of sensors, he was able to construct robotic birds that do a convincing impression of flight.

And this realistically-looking motion is the key to making his Clear Flight Solutions a success. For just as humans would easily recognize a humanoid robot that walks suspiciously, birds can easily tell if other flying object is a bird of prey or not. A robotic flying scarecrow will therefore not only have to look like a bird of prey, but also fly like one. As Nijenhuis remarked, 'if it doesn't look like a predator, they don't care. And if it doesn't move like a predator, they don't care either.'

The Clear Flight team, which now consists of Nijenhuis, three master students and two researchers specialized in robotics and mechatronics, heavily relies on 3D printing for their flying machines. The body of the birds are 3D printed in a composite of glass-fiber and nylon, making the birds lightweight but sturdy. 'You can crash these things into the ground at 50 km/h and almost nothing will break'. They are also printed in a falcon's natural colours, as can be seen in the photographs.

While these 3D printed Robirds are still in a trial phase, the results already look promising. These radio-controlled birds can fly up to 50 km per hour, and seem to be doing a fine job at keeping hungry birds away. At a landfill that is being used as a test site, the Clear Flight team has seen a 75 percent decrease in bird visits. And the ones that do return, are continuously on the lookout for predators. With Robirds, Nijenhuis says, 'there's a natural reason for the birds to stay away.'

While only the future will reveal if an autopilot-system for the Robird is a viable option, this is nonetheless a very cool project that reflects the potential of modern technology and creativity.

See the Robird in action here:


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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George Argenio wrote at 6/3/2016 2:02:31 AM:

Hi, would like to receive information about the Robo Birds of prey. Thank you for your time.

Carlos Gaines. .. wrote at 2/4/2016 10:12:45 PM:

How do I get one.... I also have a few good ideas to better improve the wonderful Falcon u made!!

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