1. ITV Report

Falcons' attack strategy 'could be used to bring down drones'

Credit: PA

Peregrine falcons attack their prey on the wing as if they were air-to-air guided missiles, a study in Wales has found.

Lessons from the birds' control strategy could aid the development of robot interceptors designed to bring down rogue drones, scientists believe.

For the study, researchers obtained a birds-eye-view of falcons in flight using miniature video cameras attached to the raptors' backs.

They also analysed flight patterns using GPS tracking devices carried by the birds.

Eight falcons were tested in the Black Mountains with dummy prey thrown into the air or towed behind a remotely controlled drone.

The video recordings also showed opportunistic attacks on live targets, including five passes at a duck that was eventually forced to land.

Falcons are classic aerial predators, synonymous with agility and speed. Our GPS tracks and on-board videos show how peregrine falcons intercept moving targets that don't want to be caught.

Remarkably, it turns out that they do this in a similar way to most guided missiles. Our next step is to apply this research to designing a new kind of visually guided drone, able to remove rogue drones safely from the vicinity of airports, prisons and other no-fly zones.

– Professor Graham Taylor, Oxford University's Department of Zoology

The scientists were surprised to find that the peregrine falcon's "terminal attack" trajectory followed a mathematical guidance law used to steer homing missiles to their targets.

Known as "proportional navigation" (PN), the system does not make it necessary to know a target's speed or distance. Instead it relies on what happens to the missile's line-of-sight as it chases its target.

If the line-of-sight does not change direction as the range closes, it means the missile is on a good interception course.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences