Rooftop drones for autonomous pigeon harassment

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Feral pigeons are responsible for over a billion dollars in economic losses every year here in the United States. They’re particularly a nuisance because the species isn’t native to this country – they were brought over from Europe (where they’re known as rock pigeons and are still quite a nuisance) because they can be eaten, but enough of the birds have escaped and liked here that there are now stable populations across the country, which is gross.

In addition to being carriers of diseases (some of which can occasionally infect humans), pigeons are prolific and troublesome urban poop, spreading their acidic droppings in places that are exceptionally difficult to clean. Rooftops, as well as ledges and overhangs on building facades, are full of cozy nooks and crannies, and despite some attempts to brutally solve the problem by putting metal or plastic spikes on every horizontal surface, there are usually more surfaces (and pigeons). than can reasonably be spiked.

Researchers at EPFL in Switzerland believe it takes an aerial approach to defeat an aerial opponent, so they have deployed an autonomous system that can identify intruding pigeons and then send a drone to shut them down to evict.


As it turns out, drones are already being used for bird repelling, but until now (for various reasons) an active human pilot would use a drone to scare flocks of birds at specific locations and times. One of the reasons for this is that it’s illegal (or at least a major administrative problem) to fly drones autonomously anywhere, and Switzerland is no exception, which is why this research included a human supervisor on standby who was willing to step in and step in should the otherwise fully autonomous system suffer some kind of disruption.

At first glance, one might think that the ideal drone-based bird control system would be a completely standalone system, where a patrolling drone uses a camera to detect wayward birds and then scares them away. But, as the researchers point out, such a system is not very practical. Rooftops can be big, pigeons are small and drone-based cameras are even smaller and use electricity to detect pigeons on board. Also, the drone wastes most of its time not finding birds and needs to be charged frequently.

A better solution is a base station with a dedicated high-resolution pan-tilt-zoom camera that can see as much of the roof as possible without having to move. If pigeons are spotted, the drone (a Parrot Anafi) is sent to the spot and spends minimal time in the air. Note that only a single (monocular) camera is involved here, but luckily pigeons are mostly the same size so it’s possible to make a fairly accurate distance estimate based on apparent bird size.

Tests on the roof of the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne revealed some problems with the autonomous pigeon detection system, mainly because within a flock of pigeons you get a whole bunch of pigeons that are hidden by other pigeons, so when your detector is trying to figure out if it’s worth it To track a flock, depending on the number of individual pigeon detections, you could get into trouble. But despite that, the overall system was quite successful – on average, a flock of pigeons could spend up to 2.5 hours just chilling on the roof and (probably) pooping a whole bunch. When the drone was in the air, it was maximum The time spent loitering has been reduced to just a few minutes, including the several minutes it took for the drone to be detected and actually launched.

Researchers also noticed some interesting drone-on-bird behaviors:

During the experiments, several interesting observations were made regarding the interactions of pigeons and the drone. First, the distance at which pigeons perceive the drone as a threat varies widely and may be related to the number of pigeons. While larger flocks were often startled simply by the takeoff (which happened 40-60 m from the pigeons), smaller flocks of birds often only let the drone come within a few metres. Furthermore, the dwell time of the drone in the target area is an important tuning parameter. Some pigeons tried to return almost immediately but were repelled by the hovering drone.

The researchers, who published their work in a recent issue of the journal IEEE accesssuggest that as a next step it might be useful to talk to some zoologists (ornithologists?)

New Technology Era

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