Edmonton airport establishes routine drone usage with bird scarer

Canadian airport becomes world’s first to integrate full suite of UAV services into daily operation

Nico Nijenhuis, CEO of Clear Flight Solutions, with Robird

The airport serving the capital of Canada’s Alberta province is to use a robotic autonomous bird robot, mimicking a small bird of prey, to scare away other birds from aircraft around the airport. Called Robird, the drone is the latest in a suite of UAV systems that the airport plans to use to observe wildlife, inspect buildings and take 3D measurements. The new device will be brought into service at the end of May.

Robird was developed by Clear Flight Solutions, a spin-off of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Designed to resemble and fly like a falcon, it exploits the natural instinct of birds to avoid a predator, meaning that they will never get used to it. Clear Flight Solutions received a €1.6m grant from an American-based seed and early-stage funding specialist, the Cottonwood Euro Technology Fund – Cottonwood’s first European investment – to develop the technology, and has collaborated with Aerium Analytics, a Canadian firm specialising in services for unmanned aerial systems, to integrate the robot system into the airport’s operations.

“The applications to an ecologically friendly and impactful technology such as the Robird are huge. Airports, tailings ponds, wind farms, agriculture to name a few,” commented Jordan Cicoria from Aerium. “The results are real in terms of safety, environment, and economics.”

Currently, Edmonton airport uses sound effects and lasers to scare birds, and Robird will be used in combination with these. “We currently operate our Robirds in a variety of places, but taking the step towards full integration within daily operations at an airport is huge. For years, there has been a lot of interest from airports. To now officially start integrating our operations at a major Canadian airport is absolutely fantastic,” said Nico Nijenhuis, CEO of Clear Flight Solutions.

The other UAV services at the airport, provided by Aerium, support maintenance programs and future development on the site. Canada’s largest airport in terms of service area, Edmonton has 400m of active runways and handles 168,000 flights per year. “The Robird was the missing link in our integrated service model”, said Cicoria.