Alaska is gonna try and use a robot to scare wildlife from around an airport

The Alaskan government has a new four-legged friend keeping migratory birds and other animals away from the runways at Fairbanks International Airport: a dog-like Boston Dynamics robot dubbed “Aurora.” The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities posted its “new hire” on Instagram last month, saying that the robot will be trialed to “enhance and augment airport safety” by trying to prevent hazardous encounters between planes and wildlife.

While addressing the Alaska House and Senate transportation committees on March 19th, robot handler Ryan Marlow said the agency opted to trial Aurora after plans to spray repellents like grape juice from flying drones were judged too risky. According to Marlow, Aurora will be put to work at the start of migratory bird season this fall, running hourly patrols near the runway.

The agency will also test how large animals like bears and moose respond to Aurora, with Marlow noting that the robot’s panels could be replaced to make it resemble a fox or coyote. “The sole purpose of this is to act as a predator, and allow for us to invoke that response in wildlife without having to use other means,” said Marlow.

“A border Collie requires food, training, warmth, and doesn’t collect data for us.”

Marlow told Anchorage Daily News that using the robot — which was funded by a federal grant and typically costs around $70,000 — was preferable to a real dog: “A border Collie requires food, training, warmth, and doesn’t collect data for us,” said Marlow. “Instead of utilizing explosives, poppers, ariel sprays or putting down chemicals, this is a non-lethal, non-chemical based deterrent for wildlife mitigation.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration database, 92 animal strikes were reported near airports in Alaska last year. Aurora’s trial seems less outlandish than other wildlife deterrents — like the pig droves introduced in Anchorage during the 1990s or in 2021 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport — but some people on Instagram have concerns regarding surveillance. The same quadruped Boston Dynamics robots have been globally trialed for various military and policing applications, with the New York Police Department being notably criticized for its deployments of the robots over the last few years.


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