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Rogue Drones? Unleash The Eagles

One of the bald eagles being trained by Dutch police to snatch drones from the sky.
Screen Shot via NPR
One of the bald eagles being trained by Dutch police to snatch drones from the sky.

As recreational use of drones around the world continues to soar, authorities have been forced to get creative with how they deal with drones that fly into restricted airspace. In December, Tokyo police launched a drone designed to take out other drones with a net. In October, British tech companies unveiled a drone "death ray" that can disable drones in midflight.

Now, police in the Netherlands are turning to nature for another possible solution: eagles.

The birds of prey are a "low-tech solution to a high-tech problem," a police spokesman told Reuters. The news service reports that the Hague-based raptor security firm Guard From Above is working in conjunction with police to train the eagles.

The eagles can be seen in action in a video released by Dutch police. It shows two eagles in a warehouse with their handlers, taking out drones in the air. The drones are slightly smaller than the birds, and the birds are able to grasp them with their talons and bring them to the ground.

"These birds are used to meeting resistance from animals they hunt in the wild, and they don't seem to have much trouble with the drones," Sjoerd Hoogendoorn of Guard From Above told Reuters. But he said the birds must first be trained to recognize drones as prey.

Another issue: Are there potential adverse consequences for the birds? A separate scientific research group is doing research to determine whether the birds' drone-killing could affect their welfare.

Geoff LeBaron of the National Audubon Society, however, told The Guardian that the eagles' sharp eyesight and sense of timing likely protect them from harm:

"What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don't get injured by the 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."

The real setback is replacing drones after they're destroyed by eagles. "It's a major cost of testing," Hoogendoorn said, per Reuters.

Dutch police expect to make a decision on whether to move forward with the drone-targeting eagle force by the end of the year.

Amateur drone usage has prompted concern in places around the world about the devices flying into off-limits air space, such as around airports and public events. As The Two-Way has previously reported, drone flights at sporting events have caused varying levels of disruption in the past few years:

"In September, a student flew a drone over the University of Kentucky's packed football stadium and crashed it into the stands. No one was injured. Just a few days before that, a New York City teacher was arrested after a drone flew into a stadium during a tennis match at the U.S. Open.

"While those incidents were ultimately harmless, drone usage is becoming increasingly problematic. Last year a drone incidentsparked a riot at a soccer game between Serbia and Albania. In that instance, a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist banner landed on the field, fanning ethnic and nationalist tensions and provoking a fight between both the players and people in the stands."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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