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4-legged robot to help deter wildlife strikes at Alaska airport

In 2023, 93 wildlife-aircraft strikes at Alaska airports were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.
4-legged robot to help deter wildlife strikes at Alaska airport
Posted at 2:35 PM, Apr 19, 2024

The Alaska Department of Transportation has hired a unique candidate for a very important job — keeping wildlife off the airport runways so planes can take off and land safely.

Aurora, a four-legged robotic animal created by Boston Dynamics, will patrol the Fairbanks International Airport for wildlife to both reduce collisions with aircraft and collect data on the animals.

“The purpose of Aurora is to help mitigate wildlife on the airfield and we have several tools that we already utilize to do just that thing. Aurora is just one additional tool,” said Zak Mitchell, the communications manager at Fairbanks International Airport in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“When she arrives here, the first year is going to be measuring her efficiency, measuring her effectiveness and whether or not the data that she’s collecting is accurate,” Mitchell said.

Aurora will be outfitted with a covering that mimics a fox, as well as one that mimics a coyote.

@scrippsnews Check this out! This four-legged #robot will be tested in Fairbanks, #Alaska as a way to help keep animals off the runway for the safety of both planes and #wildlife. Thousands of wildlife-aircraft strikes are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration every year. #aviationtiktok #wildlifeoftiktok ♬ original sound - Scripps News

“They’re natural predators for birds so we’d dress Aurora up using those skins and see how effective she is in getting them off the airfield,” Mitchell said.

Aurora will always have a handler and will also be used in coordination with wildlife biologists.

More than 270,000 wildlife strikes with civil aircraft were reported in the country between 1990 and 2022, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

A quick search of the wildlife strike database available on the FAA’s website shows more than 19,000 entries for the year of 2023. A total of 93 happened in the state of Alaska.

While most wildlife-aircraft strikes involve birds, other animals are also recorded.

Mitchell said Aurora — which is equipped with a camera — can also collect data on larger animals like a moose, for example, that may walk onto the airfield.

“She’s not going to be used every single day because again there's this assimilation that happens with animals that they’re like ‘Oh OK, well I see that all the time’,” Mitchell explained.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, bird and other wildlife strikes to aircraft cause more than $900 million in damage to aircraft annually.

The $70,000 robot was purchased with a grant.

“The money to pay for that is a USDA grant so that was pursued through Statewide Aviation and Fairbanks International Airport,” Mitchell said.

Aurora should arrive in Fairbanks in June. Mitchell said they hope to officially launch the robot in 2025 after some testing.

“I do believe that we might be the first, so that's really exciting too. Because that is expectation setting, that is setting standards, and we’re leading the charge in science and technology in that regard,” Mitchell said.

SEE MORE: Bird strikes happening more while flying, but FAA may have a solution

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