Machines shooting long-range laser beams to scare birds away replace scarecrows
Meet robocrow: Machines shooting long-range laser beams to scare birds away replace scarecrows
• The lasers sweep at random across an area from 200 acres to 3,000 acres
• Robot fires intense beams of green light from on top of a tower across field
• Laser works by creating movement in the field that birds cannot identify
• Dutch farmer reports laser kept flocks of crows away from his orchard
By Richard Gray for MailOnline
Published: 07:28 EST, 8 December 2014 | Updated: 09:41 EST, 8 December 2014
It is a war that has been raging since the beginning of agriculture, but now farmers have a new weapon in the battle to keep birds from eating their crops - laser shooting robots.
Farmers in Holland have been trialling a new type of scarecrow that fires green laser beams across fields to keep birds away from crops.
The system, called Agrilaser, uses an automated robot that can be programmed to sweep lasers at random across areas ranging from 200 acres to more than 3,000 acres.
Researchers have been developing the robotic scarecrow in an attempt to produce bird repellents that are more socially acceptable than noise based methods that are commonly used.
Most farmers combine these loud noises, usually from propane canons or firecrackers, with traditional scarecrows that mimic the shape of humans, to keep birds away from their crops.
However, the new device, developed by Dutch bird control researchers at the Centre for Agriculture and Environment, in Culemborg, Holland, chases birds away with no noise.
Natural England recently approved handheld versions of the laser and it has been used on farms in Devon and have been used to scare away seagulls in Gloucestershire.
The automatic version of the lasers have yet to be used here in the UK.
The trajectory of the lasers can be programmed from a laptop and it then makes random sweeps across fields.
Tests at an apple and pear orchard saw losses due to birds almost entirely disappear over a three week period, according to Arnold Bosgoed, the farmer who has been trialing the system.
He said: 'After the deployment of the laser, the orchard became a lot quieter. The large groups of crows disappeared.
'The system is noiseless and the birds do not seem to get used to the laser beam. The installation was easy and it requires no maintenance.'
Depending on the crops, losses due to birds can range between five per cent and 50 per cent of what is planted.
The developers of the robotic laser, which looks a little like a CCTV camera and can be mounted on top of a tower to provide maximum coverage.
Researchers at the Centre for Agriculture and Environment (CLM) also hope the system can be used to keep birds away airports, where they pose a risk to aircraft, and oil rigs.
Gijs Kuneman, director of CLM, said: 'The damage caused in the fruit industry by birds is well known and seems to be increasing.
'It can lead to substantial reduction in production. The smallest hole in a pear means it can rot and infect the whole crate.
'We've been looking for different methods of chasing the birds away with as little disturbance as possible.
'We had heard about the handheld lasers, which are like a torch which people carry around to scare off birds.
'But now that has been put on a robot that has a pre-programmed field in which it will move, so you can set it up to protect part or all of the orchard.'
Mr Kuneman added that the system worked by creating the impression of movement on the field, which scares the birds away without harming them.
He said: 'They don't understand the light.
'They consider it a physical object moving through the trees which they can't hear but they can see.
'We tested it on crows - jackdaws and rooks - and they were all scared away. They tend to be the smartest birds so if it works on them it should work on other birds.
'The system is random so there is no pattern they can discern.'
However, the laser may create some unwanted light shows in rural areas that may be opposed by some locals.
Mr Kuneman added: 'It is only during the few weeks that the fruit is ripe on the trees.
'In a densely populated country like the Netherlands there is already much light pollution so it probably will not lead to many complaints.
'Anything would be an improvement on the traditional way of chasing birds - a cannon that makes a loud boom.'