Alaska Airport Employs Robotic Dog for Wildlife Control

Robotic dog Aurora
Photo Credit: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Alaska is to trial a robotic dog to control wildlife incursions at Fairbanks International Airport. Going by the name of Aurora, the deployment planned for June hopes to deter migratory birds and wildlife from encroaching the airport area.

Imagine a headless robotic Labrador Retriever patrolling the grounds of an airport. This isn’t science fiction; it’s the reality at Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska. In fall, a robotic dog named Aurora will be deployed to keep wildlife away from runways.

This innovative approach to wildlife hazard reduction is a first of its kind. Developed by Boston Dynamics, Aurora is a testament to the growing capabilities of robotics. But why a robotic dog? The answer lies in its agility and adaptability.

“Aurora can scramble over rocks, climb stairs, and even navigate through rain and snow,” explains Ryan Marlow, a program manager with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

This all-terrain prowess allows Aurora to effectively patrol the diverse landscape surrounding the airport.

Photo Credit: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Aurora Can Mimic Predators

More importantly, Aurora can be disguised with interchangeable panels to resemble a coyote or fox. These are the natural predators of many animals that pose a threat to aircraft, such as birds.

By mimicking these predators’ movements, Aurora can effectively haze wildlife away from runways, preventing potentially disastrous collisions.

Bird strikes, as these collisions are called, are a significant concern for aviation safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that there are over 14,000 bird strikes reported in the United States each year. The high incidence rate highlights the need for effective deterrents.

‘Spot’; Photo Credit: Boston Dynamics

Aurora vs Traditional Mitigation Methods

Traditionally, airports have relied on a variety of methods to deter wildlife. These have included sonic devices, pyrotechnics, scarecrows, and even trained birds of prey.

However, these methods can be labor-intensive, have limited effectiveness, or even pose safety risks themselves.

Aurora, on the other hand, offers a promising alternative. Programmed for autonomous operation, it can patrol designated areas on a regular basis, providing consistent wildlife deterrence without human intervention.

This not only reduces manpower needs but also ensures consistent coverage, potentially leading to a significant reduction in bird strikes.

While Aurora’s deployment is currently in the testing phase, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is optimistic about its potential.

“The sole purpose of this is to act as a predator, and allow us to invoke that response in wildlife without having to use other means,” says Marlow.

There are, however, some considerations for this new technology. The initial cost of acquiring a robotic dog like Aurora can be significant.

An Evaluation Over Time

Additionally, the long-term effectiveness of using a robotic predator to deter wildlife needs to be evaluated over time. Will animals become habituated to Aurora’s presence at the Alaska airport, rendering it ineffective?

Other wildfire control devices have generally shown that wildlife become ‘habituated’ over time. Put simply, after a period of effectiveness, they begin to realise that the device does not represent a threat.

Only time will tell how these questions will be answered. However, the deployment of Aurora at the airport marks an interesting step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure the safety of both air travel and wildlife.

Aurora will be based out of Fairbanks International Airport. From here it will enhance & augment airport safety and operations at FAI and remote airports.

By harnessing the power of robotics, airports may have found a new and innovative tool to keep the surrounding airspace, and wildlife, safe.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
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