Eagles could be used to take down "hostile drones" in London after Dutch trial


London's Metropolitan Police force is considering using trained eagles to grab drones from the sky following a rise in unmanned aircraft crime (+ movie).

Dutch company Guard from Above has trained the birds of prey to view a drone as a potential meal in response to growing concern about "hostile drones".

Billed as "a low tech solution for a high tech problem" the eagles have already been used in the Netherlands to catch drones of different sizes in mid-air by grabbing the middle of the aircraft.

London's Metropolitan Police (the Met) has now expressed an interest in trialling the eagles in the UK capital, amid growing concerns about drones being used to infiltrate prisons and intercept aeroplanes.

Metropolitan Police considering using eagles to tackle rogue drones

According to British newspaper The Times, a YouTube video of an eagle catching a drone was shown to the Met's chief commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, who dispatched a senior officer to determine whether it could work in London.

"As would be expected in an organisation that is transforming we take an interest in all innovative new ideas and will of course be looking at the work of the Dutch police use of eagles," said a Met spokesperson.

According to the BBC, the Ministry of Justice reported nine attempts to use drones to infiltrate prisons in England and Wales in the first five months of 2015.

In December, detective chief inspector Colin Smith – a UK government counter-terrorism advisor – warned that terrorists could use commercially available drones to attack passenger planes in an interview with The Sunday Times.

The UK Air Proximity Board reported the involvement of drones in four serious near misses at UK airports last year.

In February this year, a drone came within 20 metres of colliding with a passenger plane above the Houses of Parliament, but the operator was not identified.

Drones have also been used to fly over otherwise private construction sites, with drone movies of architecture projects like the Foster-designed Apple Campus 2 in California proving popular on YouTube.

However, the idea of using eagles to intercept the unmanned aircrafts has been met with some criticism.

Jemima Parry-Jones, director of the International Centre of Birds of Prey in Gloucestershire, told the BBC she thinks the idea is a "gimmick".

"Eagles are big, powerful birds; they should not be flown in built-up areas," she said. "And secondly in terms of the safety of the bird, you're asking it to grab hold of a drone, which often has four rotating blades keeping it in the air."

"If the police in the UK are asking the right experts they should listen to our advice," she continued. "If you don't believe us, try putting your own fingers into the propeller of a reasonably sized drone and see what happens."

US conservation organisation the National Audubon Society told the Guardian that the birds were capable of avoiding a drones' rotors.

"They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit – they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors," said spokesman Geoff LeBaron.

Aside from their reported use in criminal activity, drones are being utilised for everything from Amazon deliveries to medical supply transportation.

Designers have also envisioned other possible future uses for unmanned aerial vehicles, including a fleet of police drones that could patrol London, and to build bridges and other architectural structures.

In 2014 the London Design Festival cancelled an installation of flying drones over fears for "safety of members of the public".

  • Dariusz

    Nice. Next story: eagle gets killed by attempting to take down a criminal’s drone in a public park, filming a school film project.

    I hope the target for these beautiful birds are only terrorism/criminal activity, not some Joe Bloggs, trying to make a nice Youtube film. But now comes the licenses, fees, paperwork… Good times.

  • Hasan Sahin

    Just as your four-year-old child doesn’t know not to stick its hand on the hot stove so the eagle doesn’t have the concept of spinning propellers, and unless there is a bright “grabby” part that the bird recognises from its training (as in the video), accidents are bound to happen.

    The great majority of your commercially available drones operate on the 2.4Ghz band, so you can easily solder together a powerful 1 Watt RF jammer tuned to the 2.4Ghz spectrum with a helical antenna (directional antenna) to put out high-frequency RF noise and completely interrupt the radio control transmission between the operator and the drone.

    Now can we please stop talking about things we don’t understand and actually ask people that have been in the RC hobby for some time? Thank you.

    • Frederick Fasola

      The authorities are looking into different techniques, including RF jammers and just shooting the damn things out of the sky, but, as Marcel Hirscher discovered (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-sports/35167883), you don’t want to be too close when one of these crashes!

      So any device (or animal) that can grab one of these is a tempting idea. That said it does seem a bit floored as not only does it seem likely the bird could get hurt, it also can’t be asked to discriminate between “good” and “bad” drones, which could become a problem if the use of them becomes more common. Imagine a police drone, used to keep an eye on an unidentified drone. How does the bird know which one to take down?

      Also, it is likely drones will become more and more powerful, and probably bigger and bigger as they will be required to carry increasingly heavy payloads. So unless we can start training condors… well, you get my point!

      • Hasan Sahin

        Excuse me my friend, drones don’t fall from the sky when the signal is jammed.

        DJI drones (as i am starting to believe they are what common media thinks of when saying “drones”) have what is called RTH Fail-safe (as with most other expensive commercially available drones).

        The fail-safe engages when the drone is almost out of battery or loses its radio signal for more than 3 seconds. When the fail-safe engages, the drone starts to slowly decrease altitude and eventually land. I am telling you this from experience.

        Here is a reality check for everybody. The only real harm someone can do with these is to repurpose the total weight of the photo/video camera into plastic explosive triggered from the transmitter. All of your actual and so called drone problems come from idiots who fly them negligently and with total disregard for safety.

        Here is your solution: categorise them as professional filming equipment and distribute them only to licensed individuals. End of story.

        • vomov

          As a RF expert and RC hobbyist, I’d like to add to this discussion. First off, a ‘drone’ is something that flies (or moves in any other way) without much human control beyond setting a goal or waypoint(s). The term you’re looking for is ‘quadrotor’.

          Second, you are partially right in that quadrotors should hover and slowly descend upon losing signal, but most cheap Chinese imports actually drop like a brick. Moreover, these tend to not have any kind of battery-monitoring built-in, so they don’t change their behaviour before the battery discharge protection sets in (again; like a brick).

          These are usually the ones used for criminal activity, since the fancy ones are too expensive and the DIY ones require too much expertise (if you can make a quadrotor from scratch, proper jobs are certainly available).

          We, the RC community, would LOVE a quadrotor flying certification. No piece of paper, no flying. My group (of about 120 people, right now) has been coming together for RC flying for about forty years, with the last thirty including racing and the last fifteen including quadrotors, but it’s only in the last five that we see idiotic amateurs buying cheap Chinese crap that drops without warning, suddenly switches to a random channel, or explodes (not kidding).

          It’s only in the last couple of years people start talking about us being ‘unsafe’, while we have not had a single accident in our forty years of having fun. Dangerous amateurs are ruining it for us.

      • vomov

        You state: “likely the bird could get hurt”.

        This should be: “inevitable the bird will receive major damage to the legs and possibly face”.

        Standard protocol is to disarm the quadrotor when doing ANY kind of maintenance; even cheap plastic rotors can cut through meat easily at those speeds. We actually do a demonstration for new members of our group, involving a piece of meat, a long stick, and a stand-alone motor with a propellor.

        We stand about three metres away, and behind a window because getting a piece of bone in the face at those speeds can cause severe damage.

  • Kay

    Nice. There goes my Amazon order. No Eagle no, these are multivitamins. You are already super strong.

  • The Liberty Disciple

    Unfortunately, anti-eagle counter measures will likely be deadly for the bird. Technology is moving faster than law enforcement.

  • DC

    With regard to safety of the eagle they use the terms “They seem to be” and “can probably” – not the best terms to use when dealing with safety.

    If you watch the clip they stop the rotors as soon as the drone is grabbed – don’t think Mr Criminal will be so courteous in reality.

  • ᏠᏋᎦ

    Unbelievably stupid! Why don’t they just jam the signal? You know that the evil doers will start shooting eagles out of the sky. We should not put our beautiful animals in spy vs spy situations.

    Drones are a human problem. Now you need drones to jump those drones, etc etc. For all of the good you get from these drones, the down side is going to cause us nothing but trouble.

  • Paul

    I have trained birds for years and it won’t be long till the birds realise they cannot eat them and start ignoring them.