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A Bird-Scaring Bot

Why are airport workers planning to dress a robot up like a coyote? 

Overhead view of Fairbanks Airport with insets of the Aurora robot and a map showing the location of the airport in Alaska

Quintin Soloviev (CC BY-SA 4.0), © Kawee Wateesatogkij/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

If a robot were dressed up as a predator, would a bird be fooled? Officials in Alaska are about to find out. The state’s transportation department will use a robot disguised as a fox or a coyote to try to scare birds and other animals away from a busy airport.

The robot, which officials named Aurora, is the size of a large dog. It travels on four legs and is controlled by a human using a computer or tablet. Aurora can move through snow and rain with ease and even climbs rocky areas or flights of stairs if needed. Its outer panels can be replaced with panels that make it look like a fox or a coyote.  Check out the video to see the robot in action.

Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

Aurora can do many things, but can it scare a bird?

Aurora’s ability to “wear” a disguise could make it valuable for protecting Alaska’s wildlife. Migrating birds and other animals often fly or walk on or near airport runways, putting them in danger as planes take off and land. Officials have tried scaring away the animals by making loud sounds, but that can cause other problems, such as scaring local pets. A robot dressed up as a predator might be a better solution—if it works.

An airplane sits on a runway with houses in the background.

© Dezzor/Dreamstime.com

Officials will test Aurora at the Fairbanks International Airport this fall, when birds that spent the summer in Alaska migrate south. They’ll see whether Aurora scares both these birds and the state’s larger animals, like bears and moose. 

NEWS EXTRA!

Here Come the Cicadas!

A map of the United States with the locations of the two broods indicated along with an inset of cicadas on a tree.

© Natureheart/Dreamstime.com; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Will the 2024 cicadas emerge where you live? Use this map to find out!

If you live in parts of the Southern and Midwestern United States, you can expect things to get loud. As summer approaches, trillions of cicadas will come out of the ground and take to the skies to mate. The males will make their presence known by producing a noisy mating call.

Periodical cicadas appear only every 13 or 17 years, depending on the brood, or group. A 13-year brood called Brood XIX will appear in late April or early May. A 17-year brood called Brood XIII will surface in mid-May. The adults will die soon after mating, but their offspring will go underground to begin the cycle all over again.

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Fun Fact

Is a 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) animal a good swimmer? If it’s a moose, the answer is yes! A moose can swim about twice as fast as a human.

© Gregory B Balvin—Photodisc/Getty Images

Hey, Robot…Take That Picture!

AnimalVidBitsProductions/Pond5.com

Imagine you’re in the African savanna, making a video of wildlife in motion. Suddenly, a lion comes into view. He looks hungry! Do you stick around and keep filming?

Not many people want to get up close and personal with a lion or a bear. That’s why some wildlife photographers are using robot photographers instead. These little machines can come face to face with dangerous animals while humans stay out of harm’s way. And robots are less likely than humans to disturb, or change, an animal’s usual behavior.

A small camera and lights are on treaded tires and covered in camouflage.

© Will Burrard-Lucas (https://willbl.com/)

BeetleCam can get close to wildlife when photographers can’t.

In 2009, photographer Will Burrard-Lucas built BeetleCam, a robot-on-wheels that can carry a camera. BeetleCam enabled Burrard-Lucas to photograph the trio of curious cubs below. Additional BeetleCam photos can be seen on Burrard-Lucas’s website.

Three lion cubs stand in tall grass and look at the camera.

© Will Burrard-Lucas (https://willbl.com/)

Scientists also put robots in the wild so they can capture observations of animals that they might otherwise miss. In 2014, scientist Yvon Le Maho built a robot that looked like a penguin chick. Real penguins accepted the fake baby bird into their colony and had no idea the robot was filming them!

Just the Bear Facts

A grizzly bear splashes in water with birds in the background.

© Paul/stock.adobe.com

When bears hibernate, they go into a state of light sleep called torpor. During this time, they don’t pee or poop! What else is there to know about Alaska’s grizzly bears, which are also called brown bears? You can learn more at Britannica.

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Word of the Day

incognito

Part of speech:

adjective

Definition:

: with your true identity kept secret (as by using a different name or a disguise)

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