Monday, 30 May 2016

Dutch Firm Trains Eagles to Take Down Drones

At a disused military airfield in the Netherlands, hunting birds like the eagle are being trained to harness their instincts to help combat the security threats stemming from the proliferation of drones.
The birds of prey learn to intercept small, off-the-shelf drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — of the type that can pose risks to aircraft, drop contraband into jails, conduct surveillance or fly dangerously over public events.

The thought of terrorists using drones haunts security officials in Europe and elsewhere, and among those who watched the demonstration at Valkenburg Naval Air Base this month was Mark Wiebes, a detective chief superintendent in the Dutch police.

The initiative is timely, given the number of drone incidents in Europe.

In France, drones were found close to nuclear power stations in 2014. The same year in Britain, a man was fined after losing control of a device near a nuclear submarine facility.

The next year, another Briton was prosecuted after flying a drone over soccer stadiums and tourist attractions.

In the Netherlands, there was a near miss involving a drone and an aircraft at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in April, the type of episode that seems worryingly frequent.

In January, a drone was spotted between two low-flying Tornado military aircraft in Scotland. The next month, Heathrow Airport near London reported a drone incident involving an Airbus A320 passenger plane whose captain assessed the risk of collision as high.

“The drone flashed beneath by about 100 to 150 feet and slightly left of the fuselage,” a report said, describing the object as black, with a red strobe light on top and a diameter of two to three feet. “The entire event lasted no more than three or four seconds, making any evasive action virtually impossible.”

Britain has also faced a surge in drone flights near prisons. There were 33 sightings last year, compared with two in 2014. In December, drugs, a mobile phone, a charger and USB cards were found on a drone at Oakwood prison in the West Midlands region of England.

Alan McKenna, an associate lecturer in the law school at the University of Kent, said the experiment with birds of prey reflected growing concerns in Europe.

“There are so many unknowns: What if a drone does hit an aircraft? Can it bring that aircraft down?” Dr. McKenna said, adding that “research is being carried out now” on those questions.

“We all know it’s going to be feasible to use a drone with a bomb attached,” he said.

Dr. McKenna said he was skeptical that birds of prey would be adopted widely to deter the illegal use of drones, but he acknowledged that they might be one part of the solution.
“You couldn’t have an eagle 24/7 in a particular area,” he said, adding that one possible use would be at public events like a music festival.
Mr. Hoogendoorn said teams of eagles could be placed on standby at high-risk locations. Different birds could be deployed at night, he added, though it is harder to fly drones after dark.
Eagles are already used around some airports to scare away birds that can pose a danger to aircraft if sucked into engines, Mr. Wiebes said, suggesting that birds of prey are suited to this type of location.
The Dutch police expect to use birds of prey that, “instead of hunting for a dove or a rabbit, will hunt for these drones,” he said.

“It’s majestic to see,” Mr. Wiebes said, as a magnificent bald eagle perched on the arm of a handler. “But they are not pets.”

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