Apr 14, 2016 | By Benedict
Dutch company Clear Flight Solutions is a provider of remote control 3D printed birds, which can be used on farms, airports, and other locations to scare off real birds. The Materialise-produced “Robirds” are laser sintered in glass-filled polyamide and hand-painted for realism.
Robirds in flight
When we talk about 3D printing “taking off”, we’re usually referring to significant industry growth or new, landmark applications of the exciting technology. Occasionally, however, 3D printing takes flight in a more literal sense. Many voices in the aviation sector can be heard getting excited about Boeing’s 3D printed fuel nozzles deployed in the company’s LEAP-1B engines, while 3D printed drones are becoming more and more commonplace around the world. Dutch company Clear Flight Solutions, however, might be the first business to create 3D printed flying birds—an experiment that could revolutionize the bird management industry.
Birds are, without doubt, incredible creatures. Some people devote their entire lives to ornithology, and many of us keep parrots or budgerigars as pets. In some lines of work, however, the presence of birds can be something of an albatross around a company’s neck. For thousands of years, farmers have deployed scarecrows to discourage birds from snacking on precious crops, while airports, sanitation areas, and harbors must also prevent avifauna from damaging important equipment.
Scarecrows still perform a vital role in agriculture, but their efficacy is understandably limited. Birds can eventually stop fearing the stationary—or sometimes animated—figures, prompting farmers, airport staff, and other victims of the winged creatures to invest in new anti-bird technologies. Since 2012, Clear Flight Solutions, a project devised by students from the University of Twente, Netherlands, has presented an innovative solution to the age-old problem of flying pests: a highly realistic remote control, 3D printed peregrine falcon, designed to instill fear into the hearts of smaller birds on farms, airports, and other necessarily bird-free locations.
Inside the Robird wing
Unlike more extreme forms of pest control, Robirds provide a balanced, controllable method of influencing an ecosystem. Targeted birds are not directly harmed by the 3D printed model; they are simply ushered away from the protected area. The 3D printed Robirds flap their wings in a birdlike manner, demonstrating a realism miles ahead of the traditional scarecrow. “We create raptors and other birds believe they’re real because of the way they look and fly,” explained Nico Nijenhuis, Clear Flight Solutions CEO. “This way, we can drive away birds from certain areas.”
Creating the impressive 3D printed robot birds was far from an easy task for Nijenhuis and his now-15-strong team, but 3D printing eventually proved to be the ideal manufacturing technique for the robotic birds. In 2013, Clear Flight Solutions approached Materialise with its business plan, and the 3D printing giant, wise as an owl, was keen to get on board with the project. The two companies worked on various prototypes, eventually opting to laser sinter the bird in glass-filled polyamide, with all necessary internal fixation points for mechanical components directly printed inside the body. “3D printing provides a lot of freedom to make beautiful bird shapes,” Nijenhuis noted.
3D printing has enabled Clear Flight Solutions to produce a high-quality product, while allowing continual modifications and improvements to be made at relatively little cost. “Some big advantages of 3D printing are, for instance, the freedom in the shaping process, and the ease with which you can adjust your model,” Nijenhuis continued. “This way, you can really use it as rapid manufacturing. We don’t have to make any molds, which would then be impossible to adjust. Very easily, we can modify the shape, the internal structure, the wires inside the bird. 3D printing really provides immense freedom.”
An early prototype
While Robirds are already available to farmers as a viable alternative to scarecrows, implementing the 3D printed creations in airports has been a slower process, due to the rigorous safety precautions employed at such locations. Clear Flight Solutions has, however, already scheduled its maiden airport flight. In February 2017, the company will fly one of its 3D printed birds of prey at Weeze Airport in Germany. The company had been in discussions with representatives at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, but due to stricter regulations, implementation of the 3D printed birds at a Netherlands airport has been postponed for the time being.
Clear Flight Solutions hopes that, in the near future, it will be able to develop 3D printed birds which can autonomously locate and chase flocks of real birds, identifying the correct targets in the correct locations as a duck takes to water. The company recently received an investment of €1.6 million from Cottonwood Euro Technology Fund, which has helped the company to take on new staff and expand its bird management projects.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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